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Youth Soccer Injuries

Kelly Cappello provides an overview of the seven common injuries experienced by youth soccer players and advice on how to treat and prevent them.

Soccer is one of the most popular team sports in the world. Even in the U.S., soccer has the fastest growing participating rate of all high school sports. According to statistics compiled by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, the number of high school soccer players has more than doubled since 1990 with more than 700,000 high school students currently participating in soccer.[1]

Given the rise in youth soccer participation, one would expect an increase in youth soccer injuries, and there has been. But the percentage of injured players in youth soccer has also increased. Since the early 90s, the injury rate recorded in U.S. hospitals for youth soccer players from 7 to 17 years old has nearly doubled. Soccer now has a higher injury rate than many contact sports such as field hockey, rugby, and basketball.[2]

Overall, this participation increase in youth soccer programs provides positive outcomes for children. The sport requires intense physical effort over an extended period of time which is great for their physical fitness. Not to mention, youth athletes experience many psychological benefits of playing a team sport which includes improved self-esteem and work ethic. That being said, it is important to protect young athletes and take necessary precautionary measures to prevent injury so they can continue to play and reap the benefits. Below is a list of the most common youth soccer injuries including causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention.

7 Common youth soccer injuries

1. Sever's disease

Sever's disease[3] is also called calcaneal apophysitis. It results from inflammation of the growth plate in a child's heel, and, although painful, it is temporary and has no lasting effects. As a growth plate injury, Sever's disease is most common in youth athletes experiencing puberty and/or growth spurts between the ages of 8 and 15.

Causes and symptoms

During a growth spurt, the heel often grows faster than the rest of the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the leg which causes the muscles surrounding the heel to become extra tight.

According to WebMD, symptoms include:

  • Pain, swelling, or redness in one or both heels
  • Tenderness and tightness in the back of the heel that feels worse when the area is squeezed
  • Heel pain that gets worse after running or jumping, and feels better after rest
  • Trouble walking
  • Walking or running with a limp or on tiptoes

Treatment and prevention

Rest and proper stretching are best for both treatment and prevention. The pain usually starts out as a dull pain but gets worse with time if the athlete remains highly active. That is why it is crucial to promote rest as soon as the athlete begins to feel the heel pain.

Other precautionary and treatment measures include:

  • Wearing supportive shoes
  • Stretching calves, heels, and hamstrings
  • And running on softer surfaces

In addition, a doctor might recommend ice packs or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen to relieve the pain.

2. Osgood-Schlatter's disease

Osgood-Schlatter's disease is another growth plate-related youth soccer injury. The painful knee injury is most common for young players between 10 and 15 years old.

Causes and symptoms

The kneecap is held in place by the patella tendon which connects the kneecap to a growth plate on the shin. As bones grow faster than muscles, an intensive activity can cause the tighter tendon to pull on the growth plate causing pain in the area just below the knee.

According to the Sports Injury Clinic[4], symptoms include:

  • Pain at bone at the top of the shin
  • Swelling, inflammation, or more prominence in the same region
  • Pain and swelling is worse during and after exercise but improves with rest
  • Pain when contracting the quadriceps muscles or performing squat-like activities

Treatment and prevention

Rest is the key to proper treatment and prevention methods. The Sports Injury Clinic really encourages coaches to manage young teams to do "only what the pain will allow". It is better to properly rest the slightly injured area for a couple of weeks than to force a player to push through and eventually lose them to an injury that requires 12 months to recover.

Other precautionary and treatment measures include:

  • Taping the affecting region with a patella strap
  • Participating in low impact training like swimming or cycling
  • Icing for 10 – 15 minutes three times a day

Once again, doctors might recommend ibuprofen or naproxen to relieve pain and reduce swelling.

3. Patellofemoral Syndrome

Patellofemoral syndrome is an overuse injury that is characterized by pain at the front of the knee and around the kneecap. The cartilage around the kneecap swells from increased pressure. It is common in children active in sports and experience rapid growth.[5]

Causes and symptoms

Patellofemoral syndrome is also called runner's knee, but running is not the only cause of runner's knee. Weak hip muscles, abnormal foot posture, and repetition squatting, lunging, and jumping can also contribute to the knee pain. Since youth soccer players often perform these actions on the field, they are susceptible to a patellofemoral syndrome.

According to Foot Health 4 kids, symptoms include:

  • Pain at the front of the knee, around or behind the kneecap
  • Pain with activities that include squatting, kneeling, hopping, jumping, running and using stairs
  • Noticeable pain after sitting still for long periods with a bent knee,
  • Fullness or swelling around the kneecap

Treatment and prevention

Apart from ice, rest, and ibuprofen to reduce the swelling, it is a good idea to check the injured athlete's foot posture. They might need insoles to keep the problem from reoccurring. The athlete might also need to do stretching and strengthening exercises to correct any leg muscle imbalance or weakness.

4. ACL Sprain

The ACL is a major ligament that helps stabilize the knee joint. Sharp, fast, twisting movements, like the ones constantly performed on a soccer field, can stretch and sprain or tear the ACL. Interestingly, ACL injuries are more common among girls than boys.[6]

Causes and symptoms

As mentioned, sharp twists and turns can cause an ACL sprain or tear. Many young athletes report hearing a popping sound come from their knee.
Other common symptoms include:

  • Pain standing up or putting pressure on the leg
  • Swelling (within 24 hours)
  • Trouble walking because the knee joint feels "loose"
  • Less range of motion, unable to bend or flex the knee like normal.

Treatment and prevention

Treatment for ACL injuries is more intensive than treatment for other injuries mentioned above. The injured player may need crutches and/or a brace to walk for a while before putting pressure on the injured leg. Doctors may recommend painkillers and might even inject the injured knee will a steroid medication. In serious cases, players need surgery to repair the torn ligament.[7]

Certain power, balance, and agility exercises can help prevent ACL injuries by strengthening the muscles that support the ACL.

5. Shin Splints

Shin splints are another youth soccer injury that results from overuse. It is characterized by pain and tenderness in the shin bone. The young athlete will feel pain in the inside edge of the shin bone (or tibia) or the front/outer side of the lower leg.

Causes and symptoms

Shin splints are caused by improper equipment (e.g. inadequate running shoes), improper form, hard running surfaces, muscle tightness, and, most importantly, overuse.
The phases of symptoms are as follows:

  • Mild pain in the shins during play
  • Constant pain during play
  • Constant pain even when they are not playing

Treatment and prevention

The best thing young athletes can do to treat shin splints and prevent them from reoccurring is to rest. Implement the R.I.C.E treatment (rest, ice, compress, elevate). They should apply ice in 20-minute intervals.
Prevention methods include sufficient warm-up, cross training or practicing more than one sport and resting for at least one day a week.[8]

6. Achilles Tendonitis

Achilles tendonitis is another common youth soccer injury due to overuse. It is characterized by pain and swelling in the back of the foot. Achilles tendonitis usually goes away in a few days with proper rest. However, without any treatment, Achilles tendonitis can lead to far worse injuries that require long-term treatment and even surgery.[9]

Causes and symptoms

As an overuse injury, the injury can simply develop over time in a young soccer player. However, there are some specific causes that young athletes could prevent – improper equipment, improper warm-up, and a sudden increase in physical activity.

According to Healthline, symptoms include:

  • Discomfort or swelling in the back of your heel
  • Tight calf muscles
  • Limited range of motion when flexing your foot
  • The skin on your heel overly warm to the touch

Treatment and prevention

More common treatment options include the R.I.C.E treatment (rest, ice, compress, elevate) and anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen. Chronic tendonitis or tears can require long-term treatment or surgery. Luckily, prevention is possible.

To lower the risk of Achilles tendonitis, young soccer players should make sure they are stretching their calves before and after every practice. They should also mix in some low-impact training like swimming into their soccer practices. They can also buy shoes with a slight elevation in the heel to take the pressure off their heel.

7. Hip flexor tendonitis

Hip flexor tendonitis is another youth soccer injury caused by overuse. It is characterized by pain upon contact (e.g. pressing on the tendon) and internal pain as muscles and ligaments brush across the hip flexor tendon. It will also be painful to lift up your knee.

Causes and symptoms

Hip flexor tendonitis occurs as a result of putting too much pressure or stress on the hip flexors for an extended period of time. Since the hip flexors are primary muscles used for raising the knees, these injuries are common for runners, cyclers, soccer players, and more.

Symptoms include:

  • Tenderness in the front of the hip
  • Sore to touch
  • Clicking or snapping when you walk

Treatment and prevention

Treatment includes significant rest and icing for 10-15 minutes, 3-4 times a day. A doctor might also recommend anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen. When left untreated, hip flexor tendonitis can get much worse and maybe require surgery.[10]

Prevention methods include warming up significantly and recognizing when you need to stop or when the pain is too much to continue.

Advice for coaches to prevent youth soccer injuries

Most of the youth soccer injuries listed above are caused by the following conditions:

  • Overuse (lack of proper rest)
  • Improper equipment (unsupportive/improper shoes)
  • Running on hard surfaces
  • Improper/insufficient warm-up
  • Improper/insufficient stretching

That being said, to prevent these common youth soccer injuries, it is important to encourage young athletes to rest at the first sign of injury. That way, they can recover quickly and get back to playing in good condition.
It would also be a good idea to implement low-impact exercises in youth soccer training routines. This will give the players a chance to recover as they train and work other muscle groups to strengthen their supporting muscles.

Additionally, coaches should educate young athletes about the importance of proper running shoes and soccer cleats. Shoes can do more than blister their feet. They can cause sprains and tears in the lower extremities. It is important to make sure that players are properly equipped.

Lastly, the coach is often in control of both the warm-up and the stretching. The coach should make sure that the warm-up is long enough to transition players from rest mode to match-ready smoothly without increasing the intensity too quickly. Stretching should be done properly as well. Players should hold their stretches and breathe deeply into their stretches to ensure maximum benefits. Stretching is crucial to muscular health and should never be rushed.

Summary:

  • Encourage rest at first sign of injury
  • Implement low-impact training in practices
  • Educate players about the importance of proper shoes/cleats
  • Make sure warm-up is long enough to transition players from rest mode to match-ready slowly
  • Do not rush stretching

References

  1. nytimes.com
  2. reuters.com/article/us-health-kids-soccer-injuries
  3. webmd.com/children/severs-disease-kids-teens
  4. sportsinjuryclinic.net/sport-injuries/knee-pain/anterior-knee-pain/osgood-schlatters-disease
  5. foothealth4kids.com.au/conditions/knee-pain-in-kids/patellofemoral-pain-syndrome/
  6. webmd.com/pain-management/knee-pain/acl-injury-what-to-know#2
  7. verywellhealth.com/acl-injury-prevention-strengthening-3120475
  8. childrenshospital.org/conditions-and-treatments/conditions/s/shin-splints/treatments
  9. healthline.com/health/achilles-tendinitis
  10. intermountainhealthcare.org/services/orthopedics/services/hip/hip-flexor-tendinopathy/

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • CAPPELLO, K. (2018) Youth Soccer Injuries [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/articles/article388.htm [Accessed

About the Author

Kelly Cappello is a sports writer for Ertheo Education and Sports Agency. At Ertheo, Kelly writes about and promotes the best soccer academies in the world. She graduated from East Stroudsburg University with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. Kelly can be contacted at Kelly.ertheo@gmail.com.

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