Last updated on 18 November 2020
Soccer, or football, as it is known in many countries, is a team sport played by 11 players against another team of players on a field, using any part of their bodies except their hands and arms.
Common soccer injuries
Soccer is mostly a safe sport, but its fast pace may often involve falls and collisions. Here’s a list of the 10 most common soccer-related injuries.
Your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) runs diagonally in the middle of your knee. It is 1 of 4 major knee ligaments made of tough fibrous material. It is an important stabiliser of your knee. ACL injuries are common soccer injuries, and tend to occur during sports that involve sudden stops or changes in direction, jumping and landing.
Causes of ACL injury
- Changing direction rapidly
- Stopping suddenly
- Slowing down while running
- Landing from a jump incorrectly
- Direct trauma such as in a soccer tackle
Symptoms of ACL injury
At the point of injury, you will usually feel a ‘pop’ in the knee accompanied with rapid knee swelling within the first 24 hours. You might also feel pain and discomfort while walking.
Preventing ACL injury
Always do warm-ups before playing. This includes stretches, strengthening exercises such as squats and lunges, and strengthening core muscles. Also do exercises to improve your balance and stability, agility in changing directions, and to jump and land safely.
The meniscus is a rubbery, C-shaped disc that cushions your knee. Each knee has 2 menisci that act as shock absorbers. The meniscus tears when the pressure outweighs the shock that the meniscus can bear.
Causes of meniscus tear
- Twisting or turning quickly, especially planting your foot on the pitch while your knee is bent
- Lifting something heavy from a squatting position, such as weightlifting during resistance training for soccer players
Symptoms of meniscus tear
- Pain, especially when you touch the affected area
- Difficulty moving your knee or having restricted movement
- The feeling of your knee locking or catching, as if it is about to give way
Preventing meniscus tear
Playing soccer on surfaces such as Astroturf and wearing shoes with smaller or less numerous studs can help prevent the foot from becoming completely planted if forced into rotation, therefore avoiding the risk of a meniscal tear.
Patellofemoral pain syndrome
Also known as runner’s knee, the patellofemoral pain syndrome got its nickname from the stress of running. Simply put, it is pain at the front of the knee.
Causes of patellofemoral pain syndrome
- Repetitive stress on your knee joint from regular sprinting or jumping for the ball
- Muscle imbalance when the muscles around your hip and knee do not keep the kneecap properly aligned
- Trauma to the kneecap such as a fracture or dislocation
Symptoms of patellofemoral pain syndrome
- Knee pain, especially when you squat, jump, climb the stairs or sit with your knees bent
- Occasional knee buckling, in which the knee suddenly gives way
- A catching, popping or grinding sensation when you walk or move your knee
Preventing patellofemoral pain syndrome
Remember to stretch so that the supporting structures around the front of the knee remain flexible and less likely to be irritated with exercise. Soccer players who are prone to anterior knee pain should avoid running stadium steps or hills.
Patellar tendonitis (tendinopathy)
Also known as jumper’s knee, patellar tendonitis is an overuse injury of the tendon connecting your kneecap to the shin. It occurs during activities that exert significant stress on the knees, such as jumping and landing hard.
Causes of patellar tendonitis (tendinopathy)
- Direct trauma to the front of the knee due to collision during a soccer tackle
- Landing from a jump incorrectly
- Repeated jumping or sprinting
- Repeated squatting or hill running that trains endurance during soccer training
Symptoms of patellar tendonitis (tendinopathy)
- Localised tenderness over the patella tendon
- Pain worsens when jumping, squatting, climbing the stairs and getting up from a seated position
Preventing patellar tendonitis (tendinopathy)
The best prevention measure for this type of injury is the patellar tendonitis stretch. Additionally, regularly complete stretches and strengthening exercises such as, ankle, hamstring, and hip stretches, jump rope, lunges, and squats.
Ankle sprains are among the most common injuries in soccer. Sprains range from mild to severe, depending on the damage of the ligament and the number of injured ligaments.
Causes of sprained ankle
- Sudden stop or change in direction while running, causing the ankle to twist unnaturally
- Awkwardly planting your foot when running
- Landing unstably on your ankle from a jump, tripping over when dribbling a ball or stepping onto an irregular surface
Symptoms of sprained ankle
- Pain and tenderness
- Inability to put weight on the affected ankle
Preventing sprained ankle
Replace shoes when treads or heels wear out, and do warm-ups prior to playing a game. Perform regular exercises that improve your balance, strengthen your leg, foot, hip, and core muscles, and stretch your ankles before exercising.
Iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome
ITB syndrome is one of the most common overuse injuries among sports that involve running. It occurs when the iliotibial band, a big band of fibrous tissue that runs down the outside of the thigh from the hip to the knee, is inflamed.
Causes of iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome
- Poor running techniques, particularly inwards rolling knees and legs
- Weak hip and core muscles
- Weak inner quadriceps (large muscles at the front of the thigh)
- Poor foot arch control that puts excessive weight on the ITB
- Sudden increase in training mileage
- Endurance running
Symptoms of iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome
- Sharp or burning pain just above the outer part of the knee or hip
- Pain that worsens with running or other repetitive activities involving the thigh
- Swelling on the outside of the knee
- Pain when you bend your knee
Preventing iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome
A proper warm-up and cool down should be implemented to prevent ITB syndrome. Emphasise proper stretching before and after playing a game and prepare properly for any increase in activity volume, especially running.
Your hamstring is a group of muscles that run along the back of your thigh. They allow you to straighten and bend your leg when running or kicking a ball. During a hamstring strain, 1 or more of these muscles either stretch beyond their capacity or tear.
Causes of hamstring strain
- Poor running techniques
- Inflexible hamstrings due to insufficient or improper warm-up before a match
- Excessive training loads, ie. pushing yourself too hard despite fatigue
Symptoms of hamstring strain
- Swelling during the first few hours of injury
- Bruising or discolouration at the back of your leg, below the knee, in the first few days
- Weakness in your hamstring that can persist for weeks
Preventing hamstring strain
Warming up correctly and completely is one of the most important ways to prevent a pulled hamstring. Continue to strengthen all other muscles in the thighs, pelvis, and lower back. Stretching both before and after soccer exercise is also important. Finally, regular deep tissue sport massage can help prevent muscle strains.
Achilles tendon rupture
The Achilles tendon is a large rope-like band of fibrous tissue at the back of the ankle that connects your calf muscles to the heel bone. When the calf muscles contract, the Achilles tendon tightens and pulls the heel. An Archilles tendon rupture refers to a complete tear of the tendon, which usually occurs about 2 inches above the heel bone.
Causes of Achilles tendon rupture
- Bursts of jumping, pivoting and sprinting
- Overstretching the tendon, eg. when you suddenly trip or collide into another player, and you thrust your foot in front to break a fall
- Falling from significant height, eg. after performing an overhead kick
Symptoms of Achilles tendon rupture
- Severe pain and swelling near your heel
- Inability to bend your foot downward, tiptoe or push off the injured leg when you walk
- A popping or snapping sound when the injury occurs
Preventing Achilles tendon rupture
The best prevention for this type of injury is to stretch the Achilles tendon. It is also important to strengthen and stretch calf muscles and switch up exercises to protect the Achilles tendon.
Plantar fasciitis (read ‘plan-ter fas-ee-eye-tus’) is the most common cause of heel pain. The plantar fascia is the flat band of tissue that connects your heel bone to your toes. It supports the arch of your foot.
Causes of plantar fasciitis
- When your feet roll inward excessively when you walk or run
- Walking, standing or running for long periods of time, especially on hard surfaces (eg. running on concrete surfaces in street soccer)
- High arches or flat feet
- Improper footwear for your workouts
Symptoms of plantar fasciitis
- A stabbing pain near the heel at the bottom of your foot that is particularly severe when you take your first few steps after waking up
- Pain when you climb stairs or after standing for a long time
Preventing plantar fasciitis
A soccer cleats (shoes) with good arch support will help prevent plantar fasciitis. Proper orthotics can also be used for soccer players with low arches. Flexible calf muscles can help reduce the risk of injury. Additionally, when practising on a turf surface, use turf shoes instead of cleats.
A groin strain is a tear or rupture to any of the abductor muscles in the buttock and outer hip, resulting in pain in the inner thigh. Groin injury ranges from mild to severe conditions, which can be completely debilitating.
Causes of groin strain
- Sprinting or changing direction quickly
- Resistance during rapid leg movements, such as kicking a ball
- Overstretching the muscle, such as during a bicycle kick or jump kick
Symptoms of groin strain
- Groin pain and tenderness
- Groin pain when you squeeze your thighs together
- Muscle spasm or tightness in your groin muscles
- Walking and running may be more comfortable than prolonged sitting or standing
- Bruising or swelling may not occur until days after the initial injury
Preventing groin strain
Do static and dynamic warm-up exercises before workouts and games. Use a foam roller to relieve muscle tightness and promote blood flow. Perform adductor strength training several times a week and finally, keep performing drills all year round so your body is always prepared for activity.
Article reviewed by Dr Kevin Lee, orthopaedic surgeon at Mount Elizabeth Hospital
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