Soccer on the Rise: in Popularity and Injuries

A recent report shows that as soccer increases in popularity and injuries occur more frequently, there are steps players and parents can take to avoid the doctor’s office.

Soccer is a popular sport for young athletes, but as it becomes more prevalent the rate of injury is likely to increase in tandem. According to a recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, there are ways to prevent soccer-related injuries from occurring. Dr. Chris Koutures, a pediatrician in Anaheim Hills (CA) and Dr. Andrew Gregory a pediatric specialist at Vanderbilt University say that often just following the rules of the game can keep young athletes from sustaining injuries.

According to statistics from the 2008 U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, soccer causes more injuries than other contact sports including field hockey, ice hockey, rugby, and lacrosse. Drs. Koutures and Gregory say that the risk of injury goes up even more when unethical play becomes a factor in the game, with 11.9% of girls’ soccer injuries and 11.4% of boys’ soccer injuries resulting from illegal actions.

“There is consensus that proper rule enforcement and limitation of violent contact can reduce the risk of injury,” write the physicians. “Officials controlling the physicality of the game and emphasis on safe play with respect for one’s opponents can both play significant roles in reducing contact injuries in soccer.”

Simple ways to prevent injury
Never use a waterlogged soccer ball: The American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends that coaches use only synthetic, nonabsorbent balls when playing fields are wet, because leather balls can become waterlogged, increasing their weight and putting players at risk for injury when they come into contact with the ball.

Goalpost safety: Players should exercise caution when near the goal post, and should never crawl or sit in the goal, or hang from the net. Goals need to be padded and properly secured to ensure that they do not fall on the players.

Warm up before the game: Koutures and Gregory advise that players take the time to stretch, especially the hips, knees, thighs, and calves because “cold” muscles, which are not slowly summoned into action, are more likely to suffer an injury. Jumping jacks, stationary cycling, running or walking in place for 3-5 minutes, and stretching for 30-second intervals are warm up activities recommended by the AAOS.

The right equipment: Soccer players should wear shin guards to protect the lower leg from kicking injuries. The AAOS recommends cleats with molded or ribbed soles rather than screw-in cleats, which are associated with a higher incidence of injury. However, screw-in cleats are appropriate when more traction is necessary, like on a wet playing field.

Protective eyewear: Koutures and Gregory recommend protective eyewear, even though the risk of eye and facial injuries is considered low for soccer. “Protective eyewear is recommended, and should be mandatory for athletes with only one functional eye, or those with a past history of major eye surgery or trauma,” write the physicians.

Injury can happen to anyone
Common soccer injuries in both male and female players include: tendinitis, iliotibial band syndrome, Osgood-schlatter disease, plantar fasciitis, shin splints, fractures, ligament injuries (like an ACL tear), sprains, strains, and concussion.

Though concussion only accounts for 3% of the total injury rate, Koutures and Gregory stress that most could be avoided with better awareness. Of all concussions, simply running into another player causes 47% of injury, while 24% are caused by heading the ball incorrectly, and 17% are caused by running into the goal post.

Following the rules of the game, having the right equipment, and improving awareness about the playing environment, and the other players are simple ways that players and parents can reduce the occurrence of soccer injuries. The paper, “Injuries in youth soccer,” was published February 2010 in Pediatrics the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
-Erin Podolak

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