How to Prevent Soccer Injuries – from a Coach, Orthopaedic Surgeon and Dad
If it’s a spring or fall Saturday morning, you’ll find me coaching my 11-year-old son’s soccer team in Portsmouth, Va. Not only is it a great opportunity for me to spend time with my own children, but I love teaching young athletes how to tap into their athletic potential while also learning how to listen to their body.
As an orthopaedic surgeon, I have a unique perspective when it comes to sports. I’ve witnessed serious acute injuries in my career, but I also find the most rewarding work is supporting patients over the long term. On a few occasions I’ve treated a whole family—a knee replacement for the father and sport injuries for his kids. The ability to follow my patients and make sure they get the care they need to keep moving—no matter their age, no matter how many years it’s been since they first came to see me—that’s what I’m passionate about. Ideally, however, we’ll prevent injuries from happening in the first place.
When it comes to soccer players, injuries normally fall into one of three categories: trauma, head and lower extremity. While some injuries that occur while playing are unavoidable, I have found that some sport-induced can be preventable.
Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported that in the last two decades, the annual rate of youth soccer injuries has soared by over 111 percent. While that number is alarming, it’s important to understand that the drastic increase in injuries is due in part to the increase in in the sport’s popularity. Today, more than three million kids in the U.S. are playing soccer, and we’ve never been better equipped to deal with preventable injuries — we just have to educate ourselves.
According to the study, the most common type of injury experienced by youth players are sprains or strains, followed by fractures and soft tissue injuries such as lacerations and abrasions, many of which fall into the preventable category.
As both a coach and a doctor, I want to help educate parents and players on how to stay safe and injury-free while playing soccer. Below, I’ve listed the most common lower extremity injuries and the best way to prevent them:
- Strained muscle – These are some of the most preventable injuries. It’s critical for players to properly warm up and cool down with any physical activity. Active stretching is key to this. In youth sports, stretching before and after practice is often overlooked at children are typically more limber than adults. However as they become pre teens and adolescents the body starts to lose flexibility. Emphasizing stretching at a young age can help prevent a muscle injury, reduce soreness, and quicken recovery..
- Ankle sprains – These are very common injuries as well. Proper well fitting equipment (cleats and shin guards) is extremely important. A simple ankle sprain may seem like a benign injury however it could also be a sign of an underlying problem such as muscle weakness or tightness. Proper strengthening exercises before and especially after an ankle sprain is crucial and often simple. Drawing the alphabet with your big toe is one exercise that helps to strengthen the ankle. For recurrent injuries, taping or a brace may be helpful. A physical therapist can also help with further exercises and treatment.
- Tendinitis or stress fractures – Doctors are seeing an increase in overuse injuries because young athletes aren’t giving their bodies proper time to rest and recover. There is also too much focus on playing a single sport. Just like the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), I advise parents to limit the number of teams a child plays in during a season, and to make sure that they don’t specialize in a singular sport. If you need convincing from this, look at the past couple NFL drafts as a large number of those players drafted played multiple sports growing up.
I wanted to share my thoughts because while I’m an orthopaedic surgeon and a coach, I’m first and foremost a dad. It’s great to see your kids being active and having fun, but it’s every parent’s priority to keep their children safe. I hope these tips will do just that.
For more information on preventing soccer injuries, or to learn about the sport, visit American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
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