Soccer | Overview
Soccer is known for the near-constant motion and explosive action of the players. All the running, jumping, and kicking makes soccer an exciting sport to play and watch. It can also lead to injury.
How do soccer injuries happen?
- Prolonged running with little rest puts athletes at risk of shin splints, muscle strains, and other overuse injury. Many young soccer players play for multiple teams (school, town, club). These players often have multiple practices or games each week with few or no days off to rest. Young athletes’ growing bodies are particularly vulnerable to overuse and have even greater need for rest and recovery during periods of rapid growth.
- Quick changes in direction or rapid deceleration put the lower extremities at risk of injury, such as sprains in the knee and ankle ligaments, and strains in the muscles above and below the knees.
- Collisions with other players, the goalpost, or the ball can result in joint sprains, dislocations, and fractures. Colliding head-to-head with another player when trying to head a ball can result in head and dental injuries.
- Strength imbalance between muscle groups can contribute to chronic, overuse conditions or acute injuries. For instance, if the quadricep muscles at the front of the thighs are much stronger than the hamstring muscles on the back of the thighs, this puts uneven pressure on the knee joint.
- Overtraining, particularly at the start of the season when players return to intensive training without a baseline of fitness.
- Early sports specialization, focusing on soccer year-round at an early age, puts young athletes at risk of chronic and overuse injuries and early burn out.
- Fatigue can set in late in a game or practice or in the second practice or game of a single day. As players become more tired, the rate of injury tends to increase.
What are the most common soccer injuries?
Acute injuries in soccer
Acute injuries are the result of a single event, such as a collision or a fall. Common acute injuries in soccer include:
Overuse injuries in soccer
Overuse injuries develop over time, often when players train hard day after day without giving their bodies a chance to recover. Common overuse injuries in soccer include:
- stress fractures
- Osgood-Schlatter disease
- patellar tendonitis
- patellofemoral pain (knee pain)
- shin splints
Preventing soccer injuries
Parents and coaches can reduce their athlete’s risk of injury by encouraging safe training practices.
- Prioritize fitness. Even in the off season, players should follow a fitness program that maintains their flexibility, strength, and aerobic fitness (ability to run longer before getting winded). At the start of the season, players should increase the time and intensity of their training gradually to allow their bodies a chance to catch up with their ambitions.
- Stretch daily. Adolescents and pre-adolescents are less flexible during periods of rapid growth, which puts them at significantly greater risk of acute injuries and overuse conditions. Stretching should be a daily part of any fitness program for young athletes.
- Learn how to dribble without looking down. Players who can keep their heads up while moving the ball down the field can see other players coming and avoid colliding with them. They’ll also know where their teammates are and who is open for a pass.
- Limit heading the ball. U.S. Soccer recommends that players younger than 11 not head the soccer ball. Players between ages 11 and 13 should be limited to 20 headers or fewer per week.
- Learn proper heading technique. The athlete’s eyes should be open so they can avoid contact with other players. Their mouths should be closed and their tongues away from their teeth.
- Always warm up before practice or a game. Warmup exercises, such as jumping jacks or jogging, followed by dynamic stretching increases blood flow to the muscles. Besides reducing the risk of injury, warming up can also reduce muscle soreness later.
- Play a variety of sports. Kids who play a variety of sports throughout the year develop strength in different parts of their bodies. They also give muscles and ligaments used intensively for one sport periods of relative rest and recovery while they play another. Physical and mental skills tend to translate from sport to sport (for instance, from baseball to soccer).
Proper equipment can reduce athletes’ risk of injury.
- soccer cleats with rounded cleats or ribbed soles that fit properly and are laced up tight
- shin guards that mold to the shin and cover the leg from just below the knee to the ankle bone; athletes should also wear soccer socks to hold the shin guards in place
- mouth guards fitted to the athlete’s teeth to protect teeth, lips, cheeks, and tongue
- goalie protective gear includes long-sleeved shirts, pants, or shorts with padding in the hips, and specialized goal-tending gloves.
How we care for soccer injuries at Boston Children’s Hospital
As the largest and most experienced pediatric and young adult sports medicine practice in the country, the Sports Medicine Division at Boston Children's combines personalized care with innovative treatment for each athlete we treat.
Our Sports Medicine team consists of sports medicine physicians, orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists, podiatrists, athletic trainers, sports psychologists, dietitians, and many others who collaborate in every aspect of our patients’ care and their recovery.
The Micheli Center for Sports Injury Prevention, part of the Sports Medicine Division, is dedicated to the prevention of sports injuries. Through research and clinical training, we offer practical strategies that help young athletes reduce their risk of injury while enhancing their sports performance. Our rehabilitation and strength training programs help injured athletes return to play stronger and healthier.
Whether injury prevention or recovery is your goal, we have the skills and dedication to help your child remain active in the sports they love.