As we get caught up in World Cup soccer frenzy this summer, some of us may be inspired to jump into a game or introduce our kids to the sport; it’s a good time to think about how to avoid common soccer injuries.
Soccer is a great activity for fitness and fun. It’s high-energy; demands fast, all-out efforts; and as a team sport, provides camaraderie. To get the most out of the game, understand the risks for injury and how to play safely.
According to soccer’s international governing body, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (commonly known as FIFA), most soccer injuries involve the legs. These tend to occur during kicking, sprinting, and as result of player collisions or falls. They can include ankle sprains, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears to the knee, hamstring tears and strains, and bruising. Frequent players risk overuse injuries, such as shin splints and Achilles tendonitis.
Soccer players are also at risk for head injuries (concussion)—either from hitting the ground, another player, or being hit by the ball. And because the game is often played outdoors in hot weather, heat exhaustion, dehydration, and sunburn are concerns.
Be Prepared. Your first defense against injury on the soccer field is fitness. Conditioning for soccer involves preparing yourself for the aerobic demands of running hard and strengthening your whole body, particularly the muscles you’ll be using most—your legs. A strong core is also an important foundation for safety and function.
Get ready. A good routine before and after the game can also reduce your risk of injury. Warm up with a jog or other light aerobic activity and stretch to get your blood flowing and muscles loose and ready to move. A similar cool-down routine after you play will help you recover well.
Be aware of the risks of heat and sun. Start out well hydrated and drink as you can during the game to prevent heat exhaustion and stroke. Some athletes like a sports drink or electrolyte supplement. After the game, continue to hydrate as part of your recovery. Start out with a thick layer of sunscreen and reapply as you sweat. If you can, seek shade when you take a break.
Wear protective equipment. Shin guards protect your shins against kicks by other players in stiff cleats. These can cause nasty bruises and even fractures. For best protection, you’ll want to make sure your shin guards fit properly, covering the front of your lower leg. Goalies need extra protection, including pads at their hips, elbows, and shoulders, as well as gloves.
Be concussion aware. Concussions are traumatic brain injuries that affect that way your brain functions. If you hit your head during a soccer game, you’ll want to be evaluated for a concussion, even if you think you’re okay. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and include headache, memory loss, and confusion and sometimes loss of consciousness. A concussion can also cause slurred speech, blurred vision, nausea, and vomiting and victims may appear dazed and feel dizzy. In the event of a concussion or suspected concussion, don’t return to play until you’ve been medically evaluated. Seek emergency care if symptoms are severe.
Avoid overuse injuries. Whereas collisions, kicks, and falls are obvious ways to get hurt on the soccer field, strain and stress over time can sneak up on athletes. Tendonitis (inflammation and irritation of a tendon), for example, is common among active people who use the same parts of their bodies repeatedly. To prevent an overuse injury, listen your body—even minor pain or discomfort that doesn’t go away or comes back often can be a sign of a potential problem. As a soccer player, be particularly aware of discomfort in your lower body, from your hips to your feet. If pain doesn’t go away with rest, see your sports medicine doctor. With early treatment of an overuse injury, you’ll miss less playing time and may avoid future issues. And that’s our “goal!”