Already the most popular international team sport, soccer continues to gain popularity in the United States. With more people playing soccer, it is not surprising that the number of soccer-related injuries is increasing — particularly as children get older and their level of play intensifies.
Sprains and strains, often around the knee and ankle, are very common in soccer. Player collisions — either full body or kick collisions — can cause a wide range of injuries, including cuts, bruises, and concussions. Overuse injuries, such as Achilles tendinitis and shin splints, frequently occur, as well.
Several strategies can help prevent soccer injuries — from careful inspection of the field to wearing proper shin guards.
Maintain fitness. Be sure you are in good physical condition at the start of soccer season. During the off-season, stick to a balanced fitness program that incorporates aerobic exercise, strength training, and flexibility. If you are out of shape at the start of the season, gradually increase your activity level and slowly build back up to a higher fitness level.
Warm up and stretch. Always take time to warm up and stretch, especially your hips, knees, thighs and calves. Research studies have shown that cold muscles are more prone to injury. Warm up with jumping jacks, stationary cycling or running or walking in place for 3 to 5 minutes. Then slowly and gently stretch, holding each stretch for 30 seconds.
Cool down and stretch. Stretching at the end of practice is too often neglected because of busy schedules. Stretching can help reduce muscle soreness and keep muscles long and flexible. Be sure to stretch after each training practice to reduce your risk for injury.
Hydrate. Even mild levels of dehydration can hurt athletic performance. If you have not had enough fluids, your body will not be able to effectively cool itself through sweat and evaporation. A general recommendation is to drink 24 ounces of non-caffeinated fluid 2 hours before exercise. Drinking an additional 8 ounces of water or sports drink right before exercise is also helpful. While you are exercising, break for an 8 oz. cup of water every 20 minutes.