Soccer is the most popular game in the world, and the fastest growing team sport in North America, with more than 40 million participants.
But with high rates of participation comes increased numbers of injuries. When players are injured, it’s frustrating for the athlete, and the team loses the player for practice and games. The player may also be more prone to a future injury at the same site.
If coaches, players and parents better understand some of the root causes, influences and mechanisms for injury, and may be able to put in place better strategies and injury prevention programs to combat the occurrence of disabling injuries.
A recent analysis of the scientific literature published in an NSCA journal looked at all the pertinent studies regarding soccer injuries for players six to 16 years old and found some interesting trends, some of which may seem quite surprising. They looked at many variables, from gender, age, physical maturation, skill level, player position, injury site and severity.
As one may expect, soccer injuries occur more frequently in games as opposed to practices since the speed of play is quicker and players may tend to try to over-ride their fatigue during games, making them vulnerable to injury. The severity of injury is also greater in game situations.
However, a surprising fact is that when lower-level (non-elite) players are compared to higher skilled (elite) players, the non-elite players had not only a higher rate of injury, but greater severity of injuries. This may seem surprising since we assume that elite play involves greater speeds, forces and more opportunity for body contact. The authors theorize, however, that elite, experienced players could recognize and avoid injury-causing situations and it also may be that they also are better prepared to brace for contact or have a greater ability to fall or roll or slide from contact.
Another reason that elite players suffered fewer injuries is because they generally have a longer pre-season and greater number of practice and training sessions in order to increase strength, endurance and coordination. Having sufficient warm-up and stretching periods correlates with lower incidence of injury, and non-elite players may not take the time or effort to fully complete warm-ups and stretching periods.
Interestingly, defenders and mid-fielders are injured more often than strikers and goal-keepers.
Girls have a higher incidence of injury than boys. Strains (muscle tears) accounted for 24 per cent of all injuries, while sprains (ligament injury) accounts for 31 per cent, and contusions at 20 per cent.
The lower limbs were the cause of 70 per cent of all soccer injuries, and the majority of injuries (60 per cent) occur from contact situations, which emphasizes the importance of the player learning the proper techniques involved in tackling and one-on-one play.
A greater risk of injury is seen in players who have a previous injury at the same site. These players showed a 100 per cent greater risk for re-injury, and players who had been injured twice in that body part had a threefold risk of re-injury. Therefore, extra care must be taken to ensure that the athlete doesn’t return to play too soon and that they follow through with all their rehab exercises and protocols before returning to play.
Finally, another interesting finding of this review is that the risk of injury to indoor soccer players is more than four times greater than outdoor players, which may be due to playing on a gym floor as opposed to a more forgiving grass surface and potentially sustaining injuries from contact with walls indoors.
The task is for coaches, parents and players to note the results of these findings and try to implement strategies that can help to reduce the occurrence, or re-occurrence, of injury. Players who are fitter, stronger, more skilled, and who adhere to sufficient training, warm-up and stretching protocols have a reduced risk of injury.
Kerry Senchyna holds a bachelor of science degree in kinesiology and is owner of West Coast Kinesiology in Maple Ridge.