Soccer requires a lot of sudden stops, cutting, jumping and landing movements, which have all been shown to increase the risk of lower extremity injuries, especially to the ankle. Roughly 35% of all soccer injuries occur in the ankle, with an average time lost from play of about 48 days. With the high prevalence and long recovery time associated with ankle injuries, identifying modifiable risk factors and prevention strategies is key to keeping athletes healthy on the field.
Mechanism of Injury
Roughly 50% of soccer related ankle injuries occur during contact with another player. Other common mechanisms include:
- Tripping on grass;
- Jumping, twisting and landing;
Common Ankle Injuries
The most common ankle injuries experienced by soccer athletes are ligament sprains (80%), followed by overuse impingement syndromes, tendonitis (achilles, peroneals, posterior tibial tendon), and though rarely, soccer players will experience fractures or osteochondral lesions.
Ankle sprains account for 80% of all soccer athlete injuries, and these athletes are 5x more likely to sustain a recurrent ankle injury upon return to soccer. Initial treatment following a sprain will involve modalities, manual therapy and rest. However, functional treatment is key for long term success, focusing on strengthening, balance, and proprioception required for return to sport.
Anterior Impingement Syndrome
Anterior impingement syndrome, better known as “Soccer Ankle”, has been shown to occur in roughly 60% of professional soccer players. Athletes generally feel pain in the front of the ankle, with feelings of giving way and catching, as well as pain with dorsiflexion movements (moving your foot up), squatting, sprinting and stair climbing. It has been proposed that recurrent ball impact results in microtrauma to the anterior joint, causing extra bony growth, which can become impinged with movement. Physical therapy treatment can be successful; however some athletes will require surgical intervention, which does have a high success rate.
Tendon and Muscle Strains
Tendon and muscle strains are another common overuse injury experienced in soccer players, with the achilles being the most common site of injury. To read a more comprehensive review on achilles tendon injuries and prevention strategies, click here.
Several risk factors have been shown to predict who will sustain an ankle injury:
- Previous injuries increased the risk for an ankle injury by up to 7x – especially if previous injuries were poorly rehabilitated. Symptoms that become chronic can be an indicator that the previous injury has not been properly rehabilitated, and overuse will eventually lead to future injury.
- Muscle tightness or strength imbalance
- Slower reaction time