Identifying and Managing Common Injuries in Youth Soccer
By John Gallucci, Jr., MS, ATC, PT, DPT, President, JAG Physical Therapy
Soccer is the most popular youth sport in the United States with over seventeen million children under the age of eighteen playing yearly. According to studies, soccer also has the highest prevalence of injury out of any youth sport and athletes under the age of 15 account for over 45% of these injuries. Of these injuries, the most common are ankle sprains, Achilles tendonitis, patellofemoral pain syndrome, and muscle strains of the hamstrings, hip flexors or calf. It is important to be able to identify these injuries to help get treatment earlier and decrease the amount of time a child is unable to play due to injury.
According to a study published in Pediatrics, male athletes are more likely to suffer from ankle injuries including ankle sprains and Achilles tendonitis. An ankle sprain typically occurs when a player “rolls” or “twists” their ankle. Typically, ankle sprains occur on the outside portion of the ankle and the foot rolls inward upon injury. This motion causes the ligaments on the outside of the ankle that help to stabilize it to get stretched. Usually after an ankle sprain the athlete will complain of pain on the outside portion of the ankle near the bone. In many cases swelling, and even bruising will occur with the injury and the ankle will feel stiff. It is important to rest, ice, compress and elevate the ankle immediately following the injury and follow up with a physician as soon as possible.
Achilles tendonitis is an overuse injury where the Achilles tendon which connects the calf to the foot becomes inflamed. Usually this presents as pain in the back of the ankle and foot and typically results from a big increase in plyometric activity such as running or jumping. This can usually be prevented by slowly increasing the amount of running or activity and stretching properly before and after soccer.
According to the aforementioned study, females are more prone to sustain knee injuries while playing soccer. One of the most common of these is patellofemoral pain syndrome which occurs when the knee cap is not moving properly and begins to cause irritation usually around the knee cap. Pain usually begins while playing and becomes worse as activity goes on. Ice is helpful to relieve the pain and the condition can easily be corrected with strengthening of the hip and leg muscles.
Finally, muscle strains/tears are also very common in soccer, especially at the hip flexor or hamstring. Usually these injuries occur after a specific movement such as lunging for the ball or a hard kick. Pain is usually found either in the front of the hip or in the back of the upper or middle part of the leg. These injuries can benefit from ice initially upon injury and light stretching as well.
As always, it is important to consult your physician immediately if you suspect yourself or your child is suffering from one of these injuries. By acting quickly you can help better manage the injury, decrease the pain, and shorten the recovery time substantially so that minimal play time is missed.
By: John Gallucci, Jr.
MS, ATC, PT, DPT, President, JAG Physical Therapy