Although sports can provide great health benefits, common soccer injuries can put a strain on the physical, mental, and emotional health of even the best players. It’s important for athletes to know the risks, best practices for prevention, early detection and treatment to keep them on the field safely all season long.
Common soccer injuries include cuts and bruises, concussions, ankle sprains and knee injuries, specifically ACL. While cuts and bruises are unavoidable in such a high intensity contact sport, a lot of the other injuries can be avoided through the correct combination of injury prevention protocol, early diagnosis and rest.
Concussions are a brain injury (usually mild) that not only disrupt a player’s ability to perform, but also their everyday life (because you are more than just athletes!) Common causes of concussions are collisions between players or the ground and improper heading technique.
To head the ball correctly takes practice. It’s important for you to practice heading the ball outside of games to understand the proper technique. The most important things to remember for a powerful and safe header are to make contact on your forehead along your hairline and to keep your neck stiff, moving from your core.
While collisions are sometimes necessary to win a challenge, it’s important to abide by the rules and avoid going into tackles out of control. You will not be able to control every tackle, so it’s important to have a conversation with a healthcare or sport medicine professional about symptoms that manifest from a concussion.
Many recreational leagues are trying to prevent concussions through different tactics such as not allowing players under a certain age to head the ball, or requiring a player to exit the game if they get a head or neck injury. If you start to experience any symptoms such as headache, dizziness, nausea, light sensitivity, trouble thinking or remembering things, exit the game immediately and talk to your doctor. Early diagnosis and treatment will help prevent you from experiencing long-term health effects. Rest is often the quickest path to recovery.
Ankle sprains are one of the most popular injuries across all sports, and soccer is no exception. It occurs when you roll, twist or turn your ankle in a way that over-stretches or tears ligaments. These injuries can cause painful swelling, bruising and trouble walking. Because of the commonality of this injury, players tend to play through the pain, but it’s important to address it to prevent long-term damage.
Strengthening and stabilization are key to preventing ankle injuries. Flexion exercises can strengthen tendons around the joint and prevent that awkward rolling. Allowing a sports medicine professional to tape your ankles before physical activity can provide increased stabilization that might not be provided by your own tendons, especially if this isn’t your first ankle injury.
It’s important to rest your ankle when you are off the field to prevent your injury from worsening. Your trainer might suggest wearing a boot to relieve pressure while you walk. Taking the time to immediately submerge your ankle in freezing cold water to alleviate swelling can be a welcome relief after a day of practice.
Knee injuries are common in soccer, specifically injuries to the ACL. Sprains and tears in the knee are more often a result of sudden stops and changes in direction than collisions. ACL injuries are 4 times more likely in women’s soccer than men’s; therefore, prevention has become a major focus for coaches, players and sports medicine professionals.
Over the years, strength training and warm up regimens have been targeted as injury prevention. Building strong quadriceps, hamstrings and core muscles have been proven to help avoid knee injuries. If the muscles around the knee are strong and flexible, they will help stabilize the knee. Exercises for balance are also beneficial for injury prevention.
Once an injury occurs, you might be in for a long recovery, but the more intentional you are about your rehabilitation (and the longer you spend focused on strengthening the muscles and tendons surrounding that area) the sooner you’re going to return to the game. Coming back from an injury is just as much work as any game or practice. It’s a challenge, and some days you are going to want to quit; however, the more time and effort you put in, the stronger you can become.
Check out our series on strength and speed training with Coach Mike Srock for more on how to build strength to prevent injury and develop speed for the field; plus drills that will greatly improve your game.