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Youth Soccer Injuries

Young girl putting on her cleats on the soccer fieldSoccer is one of the fastest growing youth sports in the United States.

It promotes overall fitness and teamwork and is great for improving a young athlete's:

  • Heart health
  • Coordination
  • Balance
  • Agility

Although it’s a fairly safe sport, almost half a million soccer injuries are treated each year.

Along with prevention, early intervention and treatment of injuries can help keep young soccer players on the field.

Common Soccer Injuries

Overuse injuries to the lower body are the most frequent injuries for soccer players.

These include:

  • Muscle strains, usually in the thigh, calf, or groin
  • Ankle injuries
  • Shin splints and knee pain from swelling of the tendons
  • Ligament sprains

In addition, injuries can result from a sudden change in direction of the body over the knee or a kick to the leg.

More serious problems, such as tears in cartilage or the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), may require surgery.

Head and neck injuries are possible as well. Concussions, due to player contact or a fall, range from mild to severe. Symptoms may show up right away or hours later.

Causes of Soccer Injuries

  • Improper training
  • Improper stretching
  • Improper strengthening
  • Lack of warm-up or cool-down
  • Overuse

Treating Overuse Injuries in Soccer

Overuse injuries can occur with great regularity in today’s young athlete.

The most common symptoms of overuse injuries in soccer include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • A decreased ability to perform actions like running, changing directions, and kicking the ball

The experts at UPMC Sports Medicine’s Young Athlete Program can work with your pediatrician to evaluate and aggressively treat these injuries to help prevent more serious long-term effects.

After a period of rest, an athlete may need physical therapy or rehabilitation to regain strength and flexibility in the affected area.

UPMC Sports Medicine can design a sport-specific exercise program when strength and range of motion return to pre-injury levels and pain is gone.

If surgery is needed, an athlete usually completes a rehabilitation program afterward and can return to playing soccer with medical clearance.

Girls More Likely to be Injured

A girl’s body structure makes her three times more likely than a boy to tear her ACL while playing soccer. Her hips are wider and her knees closer together, placing added stress on knee ligaments like the ACL.

To minimize this stress, a girl needs strong muscles in her midsection. Unfortunately, her muscles respond more slowly than a boy’s to conditioning and training, in part due to the lack of a hormone that helps boys develop muscle.

In addition, the hamstrings (muscles in the back of the thigh) help protect the ACL under stress. Girls’ hamstrings, however, contract slightly slower than boys’.

The result? They’re more likely to be injured as the thigh goes in one direction while the shin goes in another.

Both girls and boys can prevent injuries by learning strategies to control their speed.

Preventing Soccer Injuries

The ACL provides stability for an athlete to land and cut or pivot.

When the front thigh muscles contract to help with stabilization, the ACL is stressed, increasing the risk of injury. Learning to use other muscles to help with stability can reduce the risk of an ACL tear by 82 percent.

Proper landing

  • When landing, the knees should be behind the toes and stacked on top of the ankles.
  • Landing with a straight leg forces the knee to absorb four times the body’s weight.
  • Position the hips as if you are about to sit in a chair.
  • The trunk and abdominal area should land flexed, not in an upright position.
  • Eliminate side-to-side motion when landing, and land softly. If the feet “slap,” the muscles are not absorbing the load.

Proper cutting

  • Cutting or pivoting is a sudden change in direction, common in sports such as soccer and basketball.
  • Often, athletes — especially females — cut or pivot over a straight leg or cross over their legs to change direction.
  • Proper cutting involves changing directions on the outside leg (the leg away from the direction you want to go).

More Tips for Soccer Players

  • Concussions affect 1 in 10 contact sport athletes. If you suffer a concussion during a practice or game, you should sit out immediately and be evaluated.  For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our concussion experts, call 412-432-3681.
  • Have a preseason physical exam that is specific to soccer.
  • Warm up thoroughly. This includes bringing the heart rate up and stretching, especially the hips, knees, thighs, and calves. Cold muscles are more likely to be injured.
  • Cool down after playing. Stretching again may help prevent injury.
  • Avoid year-round playing to give the body a chance to rest and recover.
  • Play different sports to help ensure the same muscles aren’t used all the time.

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The Young Athlete Program

UPMC Sports Medicine’s Young Athlete Program provides individualized attention for injury prevention and management. Regardless of age or sport, we have the expertise, technology, and services to make a difference for your young athlete.

Call 1-855-93-SPORT (77678) for more information or to make an appointment.

Physical Therapy

Our partner, UPMC Centers for Rehab Services, offers your young athlete physical therapy at more than 50 locations throughout western Pa.

Call 1-888-723-4CRS (4277) to find an office near you or to make an appointment.

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