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Soccer, a contact sport!

In the U.S. 60 million children between the ages of 6 and 18 years old, participate in some form of organized sports, with 44 million participating in multiple sports and more than 15.5 million who play organized youth soccer. Despite an increase in softer turf fields and better equipment, the U.S. injury rates in youth soccer is higher than in many other contact sports, especially injuries of the lower extremity. Several studies have demonstrated that soccer has a higher injury rate than many contact/collision sports such as field hockey, rugby, basketball, and football. Participants younger than 15 years tend to have a higher risk of injury and greater prevalence of injuries compared with older players.

Indoor and outdoor soccer environments have a similar relative risk of injury, however, knee injuries are more prevalent in outdoor soccer. Field surface and shoe characteristics can affect injury risk, especially on outdoor fields. Field conditions, specifically holes, rocks, twigs or other irregularities, can increase lower-extremity injuries. More specifically, uneven playing surfaces can result in improper landing, resulting in knee and ankle injuries. Inappropriate footwear can lead to either too little or too much frictional force, which can increase the risk of knee or ankle injury.

Commonly overuse injuries are seen in younger players, especially during growth spurts, such as muscle sprains, Achilles tendonitis, calcaneal apophysitis (Severe’s disease) and shin splints, attributable in part to play on hard fields with cleats that have insufficient or lacking arch support. Ankle injuries account for 16% to 29% of all soccer related injuries. Contusions and sprains of the lower extremities are the most common injury types; more sprains are seen as an emergency than either contusions, abrasions or fractures, which account for less than 10% of soccer injuries.

Causes of lower extremity youth soccer injuries generally stem from improper training, strengthening, and stretching as well as lack of warm-up and cool-down and inappropriate or lack of proper foot/arch support or foot gear.

Here are some tips to help prevent youth soccer injuries

  1. Pre-season training and conditioning;

Podiatrist tend to see more injuries at the beginning of the season when kids are trying to do too much too soon without proper conditioning. Players should participate in a program of leg, core, and endurance strengthening exercises before the season begins to prepare their bodies for the soccer specific muscle movements they will use during play.

2. Proper stretching

Tight muscles are more prone to soccer injury. Assuring that the hamstrings, quads, hips, lower legs and ankles are stretched properly before games and practices is paramount, while post game / practice stretching is equally important.

  1. Knee injury prevention

Knee injuries, including ACL sprains and ruptures, are among the most common youth soccer injuries, especially for girls. Studies show that specific exercises designed to increase knee strength and range of motion have reduced the occurrence of knee injuries in adolescent and adult female soccer players.

4. Protective gear

Shin guards protect the vulnerable tibia from painful and debilitating contusions. Proper fitting cleats protect the foot and provide much needed traction. Make sure they fit properly to help prevent blisters and incorrect running and kicking form, which could cause foot or ankle injuries. Proper custom orthotics will often provide the appropriate support to reduce the risk of many foot, ankle and lower leg injuries.

  1. Proper heading

Although in soccer, head injury is most often the result of a player colliding with another player or being hit in the head with a ball, proper heading form will prevent some injuries to the head and neck. US Youth Soccer recommends waiting to teach heading until a player is old enough to understand the lesson and has the necessary strength to do it correctly, usually about 10 years of age. Soccer specific protective headgear can absorb some of the shock of head contact and reduce the risk of serious injury.

  1. Field Maintenance

It is estimated that up to 25% of all youth soccer injuries are the due to poor field conditions. Officials are technically responsible for this, but parents, coaches and players should all play a role in checking the field for holes, puddles, rocks, and debris. Also, make sure goalposts are properly secured. While injuries from falling goalposts are rare, they are among the most serious.

  1. Fair play

Soccer is a contact sport, and as such, players are vulnerable to injury from rough or overly aggressive play. Adherence to fair play standards by players and coaches and enforced by referees helps reduce contact related injuries.

  1. Previous injuries

Re-injury is more likely to occur when a player gets back into a game or practice too soon. This is particular dangerous when you’re dealing with a soccer head injury. Sustaining a second concussion after the first is fully healed can lead to brain swelling and more serious complications.