15 Most Common Soccer Injuries

Soccer player down on the field holding his knee in pain
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Soccer injuries are generally described as being either acute or cumulative. Acute injuries are traumatic, often caused by a fall, blow, or collision between players. Cumulative injuries are those in which repetitive stress on a muscle, joint, or connective tissue triggers progressively worsening aches, pain, and physical impairment.

Knowing how and why they occur is the first step to preventing them.

Knee Injuries

Among the most common injuries in soccer are those that involve the knee. This is because soccer is a sport that not only involves kicking but one that requires players to stop and shift directions quickly. This places extreme rotational stress on the knees as well as the ligaments that support them.

When the stress exceeds the limitation of a ligament, it can cause a sprain or tear. The four cruciate ligaments that help stabilize the knee joint are:

  • Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) at the front of the knee
  • Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) at the back of the knee
  • Medial collateral ligament (MCL) on the inside of the knee
  • Lateral collateral ligament (LCL) on the outside of the knee

ACL injuries, or injuries involving the anterior cruciate ligament at the front of the knee, are the most common. Because ligaments are less retractable than muscles or tendons, those in the knees are especially vulnerable to damage.

Injury Grades

Knee injuries can be diagnosed as:

  • Grade 1: mild sprain
  • Grade 2: partial tear
  • Grade 3: complete tear

Cruciate ligament injuries don't always cause pain but typically cause a loud "pop" when they occur. Pain and swelling will develop within 24 hours, followed by the loss of range of motion and tenderness along the joint line.

Another common soccer injury is a meniscus injury. Meniscus injury involves a C-shaped piece of cartilage that cushions the space between the femur and the shin bone (tibia). Meniscus tears are painful and often the result of twisting, pivoting, decelerating, or a sudden impact.

Other Common Injuries

Although many soccer injuries involve the lower extremities, other parts of the body can be injured, as they can be with any other contact sport. These are some of the more common injuries seen in soccer athletes:

  • Ankle sprains occur when there is a stretching and tearing of ligaments surrounding the ankle joint.
  • Achilles tendonitis is a chronic injury that occurs as a result of overuse and is felt as pain in the back of the ankle.
  • Achilles tendon rupture involves the partial or complete tear of the Achilles tendon, often with an audible "pop."
  • Concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury caused by a sudden impact to the head.
  • A groin pull is a type of strain that occurs when the muscles of the inner thigh are stretched beyond their limits.
  • Hamstring injuries, involving the three back muscles of the thigh, can range from a minor strain to a total rupture.
  • Iliotibial band syndrome is an overuse injury involving a tendon called the IT band, connective tissues along the outside of the thigh.
  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome is a condition in which the cartilage under the kneecap is damaged due to injury or overuse.
  • Plantar fasciitis is a common cause of foot pain, caused by inflammation of the band of tissue that runs from the heel to the toes.
  • Pulled calf muscle occurs when one of the muscles of the lower leg (either the gastrocnemius or the soleus) are pulled from the Achilles tendon.
  • Shin splints describe a variety of painful symptoms that develop in the front of the lower leg, often when training has been intensified or changed.
  • Stress fractures are often the result of overuse or repeated impacts on a bone.
  • Tendinitis is the inflammation of a tendon. It generally is associated with overuse but can also be developed when a traumatic injury creates microtears in the muscle fibers.

Preventing Soccer Injuries

Many injuries on the soccer field are the direct result of overuse, overtraining, poor conditioning, or the lack of a proper warm-up. To help reduce the risk of a soccer injury:

  • Warm up for at least 30 minutes prior to play, paying special attention to the groin, hip, hamstrings, Achilles tendons, and quadriceps.
  • Wear protective gear, including mouth guards, shin guards, eye protection, and knee and elbow pads. Ensure they are properly sized and maintained.
  • Check the playing field for anything that could possibly cause an injury, including holes, puddles, broken glass, stones, or debris.
  • Avoid playing during inclement weather or immediately after a drenching rain when the field will be especially slick and muddy.
  • Give yourself time to heal after an injury, even a relatively minor one. Rushing back too soon increases the risk of re-injury.

Treat your joints with respect, especially if you have tendinitis or other repetitive use injuries. If you have a flare-up, don't take painkillers and try to push through. It is better to sit out a game and avoid a potentially devastating injury.

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