If watching the World Cup inspires you to get out on the field, be sure to play smart — our tips will help you steer clear of these typical soccer injuries.
Soccer is a great way to stay in shape, but as with any sport, players face the risk of certain injuries. Both professionals and weekend enthusiasts alike may be prone to these five common conditions, but by taking the proper precautions and engaging in preventative exercises, you can play more and worry less.
1. HAMSTRING PULL, STRAIN, OR TEAR
For soccer players, the hamstring is the MVP — but a few too many sprints can easily wear down this tendon. The hamstring runs down the back of the thigh and attaches to the knee flexor muscles, helping you to execute knee bends and hip extensions as you walk or run. With overuse, an athlete may end up with a pull or strain, both of which are painful but minor injuries. It’s important to treat these conditions quickly, however, as a larger tear or rupture can cause serious damage.
To avoid injuring your hamstring, it’s not enough just to stretch before you play. Be careful not to over-train, and strengthen the area with simple exercises. Deadlifts, especially single-leg, can build hamstring strength. Lunges, as well as lying or standing leg curls, are also great exercises to target this area. For a more challenging workout, perform these exercises with ankle weights.
2. PLANTAR FASCIITIS
Plantar fasciitis affects the bottom of your foot, where a thick band of tissue runs from the heel to the base of the toes. This tissue supports the arch as you stand, and stretches under pressure, sometimes past its natural elasticity. All the running involved in a typical soccer match can cause tears in the tissue over time, resulting in irritation, inflammation, and heel pain. If you have high arches, flat feet, or overly tight calf muscles, you may also be prone to plantar fasciitis.
Luckily, you can prevent this condition with some simple exercises. Start with calf raises to strengthen the heel and calf tendons, which support the arch of your foot. Stretching your foot on a step can add flexibility to the Achilles tendon and calf. You can also try focused exercises to work the arch muscles and toes. Press your toes and heels into the ground to “dome” the foot. With a rubber band around your toes, try to spread the toes outward. Or, perform toe curls to target the toe-flexor muscles.
3. PULLED OR STRAINED CALF MUSCLE
A calf muscle strain is a tear in the muscles at the back of the lower leg. This injury can be mild or severe, but its best not to play through the pain. Strain is often caused by a sudden push-off or a moment of over-stretching, as when a player jumps or changes direction. Overusing the calves can also lead to muscle tension that may contribute to an injury.
To avoid pulling or straining your calf, consider a few basic changes to your athletic routine. Tight muscles are more easily strained, so start by massaging your calves and then incorporate stretching exercises. Try a calf stretch against the wall — both the straight-leg and knee-bent versions — to target the two main calf muscles. You can strengthen the area using a resistance band, a seated calf raise, and most importantly, a standing calf raise, which will help these important muscles become more flexible.
4. ACL TEAR
A tear in the ACL, an important ligament in the knee, can be caused by sudden shifts of direction, an awkward step, or direct impact, all of which are common in soccer. Many athletes report hearing a popping sound at the moment of injury, followed by heavy swelling and instability of the joint.
ACL injuries are severe and often require surgery, so it’s best to prevent this condition altogether. The best way to avoid an ACL tear is to strengthen the knee. Consider jump training, which can help increase your landing flexibility. Strong hamstrings, especially in relation to the quadriceps, can help balance out your leg and stride, making you less likely to suffer an injury.
5. ANKLE SPRAIN
Many soccer players experience ankle sprains, which occur when the ligaments in the ankle stretch or rupture. Caused by impact or an awkward landing, these can be serious or mild injuries, and often put you on the sidelines until you’ve healed.
To help prevent a sprain, you’ll want to strengthen the peroneal muscles around the outside of the lower leg with calf raises. You can improve your calf flexibility by doing exercises like single-leg balancing. You may also want to have an orthopedic specialist check your stride, as a foot that pronates, or rolls, may need to be corrected with orthopedics or ankle bracing.
Prevention can go a long way in keeping your body safe. If you do experience pain or an injury while playing soccer, the orthopedic doctors at New York Bone & Joint are here to guide you through your recovery. Our sports medicine specialists will help diagnose and treat your condition so that you’re ready to get back in the game.