Soccer is one of the most common sports in the world. It is estimated that over one-quarter of a billion people play across the world. Participation in soccer is rising, so it should be no surprise that the rate of soccer injury is high.
In this article, I discuss soccer injury, including six of the most common soccer injuries and their typical treatments.
An ankle sprain is an extremely common soccer injury. Inversion injuries (or what many people think of as rolling the ankle) can injure the ligaments on the lateral side of the ankle, causing an ankle sprain. The injury can be a mild sprain that causes the athlete to miss a few days or a week or two. Or it can keep an athlete out of soccer for 4 to 6 weeks.
Surgery is rarely needed for an acute ankle sprain. Ice, rest, a brace or taping, and physical therapy are some of the measures used to help an athlete return to play.
The metatarsals are the long bones of the foot. A Jones fracture refers to a fracture in a specific location along the fifth metatarsal. The fifth metatarsal is the long bone on the lateral (outside) side of the foot beneath the little toe. This particular fracture typically occurs at the junction between the base of the bone and the midshaft (long, cylindrical middle portion of the bone).
Athletes who suffer a Jones fracture face a difficult challenge. This fracture is tough to get to heal without surgery. Due to the risk of nonunion in athletes, orthopedic surgeons often choose to fix the fracture surgically. Surgery usually involves placement of a screw inside the bone across the fracture. If nonoperative treatment, such as a cast or a boot, is attempted, close observation with regular x-rays is critical to ensure that the fracture is healing appropriately.
Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a ligament in the center of the knee responsible for front-to-back and rotational stability of the knee. ACL tears are mostly seen in adults and skeletally mature teenage athletes. The incidence of ACL tears is rising among skeletally immature athletes.
A soccer player can tear her ACL through a noncontact injury like planting the foot to change directions or landing from a jump with the knee extended. She will usually feel a pop in the knee. She will usually develop rapid knee swelling and have difficulty bearing weight.
Surgery to reconstruct the ACL is the preferred treatment for soccer players to restore stability to the knee and allow the athlete to return to soccer. Recovery and physical therapy to restore motion, strength and function can take 6-12 months.
This is another knee injury that often affects athletes. The meniscus is the shock-absorbing cartilage between the femur and tibia. A meniscus tear near its attachment to the capsule can occasionally heal on its own due to better blood supply of the meniscus in a child compared to an adult.
Many meniscus tears need surgery, though. Fortunately meniscal repair, where the surgeon arthroscopically sews the meniscus back together, is often possible in young soccer players. Older patients or patients with long-standing pain might need surgery to trim out the tear – partial meniscectomy.
The adductor muscles are those located on the medial (side closest to the midline) side of the thigh that pull the lower extremity across the body. Athletes who play sports requiring quick changes of direction can injure these muscles or tendons. A strain involves a stretch or possibly a small partial tear.
Surgery is rarely required, but an adductor injury can be painful while it heals. Rest, activity modification, and physical therapy can all help decrease pain and speed return to activity.
Acute hamstring strains are injuries to the muscle or its tendons in the back of the thigh. They might be the most common injury in adult male soccer, making up between 12% and 16% of all injuries.
Hamstring injuries are usually noncontact injuries, often resulting from sprinting. They can require a 2- to 6-week absence from sports. They also have a fairly high recurrence rate, especially in the first few weeks after return to play.
Athletes who play soccer can suffer both overuse and acute musculoskeletal injuries. Some of the injuries above are not serious, while others require long absences from the sport and even surgery. If a soccer injury keeps an athlete out of soccer for any period of time, it can be worthwhile to see a doctor or orthopedic surgeon to learn the extent of the injury and plan treatment.