Soccer is one of the most widely played sports by children, teens and adults. It also has one of the highest injury rates among all sports and across all levels from beginners, weekend warriors to professional athletes. The majority of these injuries occur in the lower extremity due to the amount of footwork required during twisting, turning, jumping, landing and tackling. In this article we will discuss the most common lower extremity injuries in soccer, as well as prevention strategies that coaches, trainers and athletes can start implementing right away to keep athletes healthy on the field.
Common Lower Extremity Injuries
ACL injuries continue to be one of the most common and devastating sporting injuries. They are frequent in soccer, and 80% of the time they occur during non-contact activities such as cutting, pivoting and landing. Once an athlete has suffered an ACL injury, they are 25% more likely to injure the opposite ACL or reinjure the same one. The good news is that ACL injuries are preventable. Research has shown preventative ACL programs can decrease the risk of ACL injuries by 24-82%, with these rates being higher in females and younger athletes.
What can you do right now to keep your ACL injury free?
- Start a prevention program at an early age and stick with it. Those who started an ACL neuromuscular training program young (pre-puberty), and actually stuck with it on a regular basis (3x/week for 20-30 min at a time) were less likely to sustain an ACL injury.
- Fix your biomechanics. Faulty movement patterns during landing and cutting put a lot of strain on the ACL and are one of the main risk factors for injury. A dynamic assessment can identify any biomechanical errors and help establish an individualized exercise program to fix them.
- Do a variety of exercises. There isn’t one magical exercise that will strengthen your ACL. A typical program will focus on balance, proprioceptive exercises, single leg stability, jump training, plyometrics, and agility drills.
- Strength training! Key muscles play a role in preventing knee injuries, including the core muscles, hip abductors and hip external rotators.
- Rehab your injuries. Whether it’s your hip, ankle or knee, you need to address the injury sooner rather than later in order to prevent long-term problems and further injury. For example, ankle instability (i.e., from ankle sprains) can put you at an increased risk for ACL injury. More specifically, if your ankle is unstable during landing and cutting, the knee will be loaded abnormally, putting more strain on the ACL.
- Start using a warm up program like FIFA 11+, which consists of a dynamic warm up combined with strengthening, balance exercises, and plyometric drills. It has been shown to be effective in decreasing all lower extremity injuries, especially ACL injuries. However, its maximum benefit is with athletes who perform the program on a regular long-term basis.
Hamstring and Calf Injuries
Injuries to the hamstring and calf muscles are common among soccer players due to the repetitive kicking, sprinting and jumping involved in the sport. Re-injury of these muscles is also an issue affecting many athletes long term, with roughly 30% of athletes suffering a re-injury to the hamstring, and 63% to the Achilles within 2 years after initial injury. Continue reading more here.
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. Continue reading more here.
If you’re currently injured, book an appointment with one of our physiotherapists, chiropractors, athletic therapists or massage therapists in order to help get you back on the field healthy and pain-free. If you’re not currently injured, the therapists at Sheddon can get you started on an injury prevention and strengthening program by working on your specific weaknesses and imbalances to help prevent any future injuries. If you’re looking for a sports medicine clinic in the Oakville and Mississauga area that has great therapists AND will get you results quickly, contact Sheddon Physiotherapy and Sports Clinic at 905-849-4576.
Nessler et al. (2017). ACL Injury Prevention: What does the research tell us? Curr Rev Musculoskeletal Med. 10:281-288.