Watching college or professional soccer you'd think the injury rate during a game nearly matches the number of players on the field. As Rooney or Drogba writhe on the grass after coming in near contact with an opponent parents might question the safety of the sport. Then, miraculously after a few minutes of agony the injured player leaps up with no residual pain. Even players removed from the pitch on a stretcher end up returning to the game within minutes of their near-death experience. In the absence of serious injury players depend on melodrama to catch their breath. Certainly soccer players aren't immune to serious injury. Just ask Abby Wambach who saw her Olympic hopes dashed by a leg fracture in 2008. However, most soccer injuries involve minimal recuperation without long-term consequences. In fact the rate and severity of injuries to soccer players compare to those of competitive and distance runners (www.soccerinjuries.net
The two most common areas of the body to suffer soccer injuries are the knees and ankles. Because soccer requires quick turns and sudden bursts of speed followed by sudden stops, the knees and ankles take on a heavier burden of sustaining the player's activity. Ankle injuries are usually strains which can heal by rest, ice, and wraps. Knee injuries, unfortunately, can go beyond strains to include tearing of the meniscus and ligaments. These require surgery and a longer recuperation time, but with few exceptions result in the player being able to return full speed to the game after several months. Even Wambach's leg fracture didn't stop her from scoring her 100th
goal a year later.
Although infrequent, head injuries are scary because they can result in concussions, so any head injury has to be taken seriously by players, coaches, and parents. Whenever there's an injury to the head, even if it doesn't seem to result in a concussion, the player should leave the field for a few minutes to get the injury assessed. Most professional players don't follow this advice, but all youth players should. Head injuries don't have to be tremendously traumatic to result in brain swelling and the symptoms which come with that condition. So letting players have a few minutes to see if they develop nausea, dizziness, incoherence, and/or blackouts means that treatment can begin quickly before major damage to the brain occurs. If a player has been knocked out, he or she should not continue to play at all that day, and the injury should be assessed by a physician.
Despite these traumas, soccer remains one of the safest sports around. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (www.aaos.org
) there were 477,500 soccer injuries reported to doctors and hospitals last year in America most of which (325,000) were minor. In a 1997 study in Canada of youth players 0-19 years of age, researchers made some interesting discoveries about soccer injuries (http://www.injuryresearch.bc.ca
). Of all injuries reported those requiring surgery made up 26 percent while concussions were only 1 percent. However they also discovered that girls were twice as likely to be injured as boys and that the lower extremities were affected 46 percent of the time. They joined the AAOS in making several suggestions for minimizing injury: year round fitness conditioning, warming up and cooling down sufficiently for practices and games, securing goal posts (players should never hang from a goal post), and steady increases in training and activity over the course of several weeks. A Swedish study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) stated that there was a 77 percent reduction in knee injuries in female players 13-19 after a soccer-specific exercise program intended to improve motion patterns to reduce stress on the knees (JAMA/Archives journals, news release, Jan. 11, 2010). Another study about pediatric sports injuries lists soccer injuries in practice at 2.3 per 1000 hours and in games at 14.8 per 1000 hours with the majority of injuries being contusions. They also concluded that head injuries from head to ball contact are rare and head injuries overall are low.
Soccer ranks fifth on the list of safest sports. So chances are your son or daughter will play year after year without any major injury. Nevertheless, soccer is a contact sport, and unexpected harsh contact between players or the ground can result in harm. Therefore, if your child complains about any pain especially in the joints, have him or her checked out before returning to practice or games. Even if it is just a sprain or strain, overuse can aggravate the injury and make the recuperation time longer. It can also lead to collateral injury because in protecting the primary injury the player puts unusual stress on other joints. None of us wants to see our kid rolling around on the field. We can hope it was for nothing more than the sake of dramatic effect. But if it is for real pain, we need to take the injury seriously, even if our child pops up and continues to play. US Youth Soccer has recommendations on their website which give guidelines both for prevention and treatment of common soccer injuries (). With a bit of calm and good preventive conditioning, bumps on the field can result in nothing more than a bruised ego.