An argument could be made the soccer is most popular worldwide sport. In Europe, Central and Southern America, throngs of people pack stadiums to cheer on their favorite soccer clubs. A June 2013 match between the national soccer teams of Brazil and Mexico, for instance, drew tens of thousands of spectators in the Brazilian city of Fortaleza.
In the United States, professional soccer is still a minor-league sport, and has yet to achieve the popularity attained by baseball, football and basketball. The story is quite different, however, among American children. Over 14 million youngsters play soccer on a regular basis, making it one of the most popular sports for children in the US. In all, over 24 million Americans are active soccer players.
Not surprisingly, the rise in the number of soccer players has been accompanied by an increase in soccer injuries. Like athletes in other sports, soccer players ask a lot from their joints, ligaments, bones and muscles. This workload often overwhelms the body, leading to a number of painful of nagging injuries. In other cases, players inadvertently hurt themselves through sudden and awkward movements on the soccer field. Below are some of the most common injuries sustained by soccer players, along with some tips for preventing and treating them.
Achilles Tendonitis – Tendonitis of any sort involves inflammation of the tendons, which hold muscles and bones together. When these tendons are overused, they become inflamed and painful. Soccer players frequently complain of tendonitis in their Achilles tendon, which links the calf muscle to the heel of the foot. Achilles tendonitis tends to strike those who run frequently; of course, this describes soccer players to a tee. This injury can either develop gradually or suddenly, and can lead to tendon ruptures if not properly treated.
Since tendonitis is brought about by overworking the tendon, patients are advised to temporarily refrain from performing activities that could further aggravate the injury. At the very least, patients should moderate their athletic activity. Stretching and icing the calf muscles after a soccer game can also prove helpful.
Ankle Sprains – Throughout our body, our bones are connected to each other through fibrous tissues known as ligaments. Sprains occur when these ligaments become twisted, pulled and torn. Ankle sprains are a frequent thorn in the side of soccer players, who suffer them after awkwardly planting or moving their feet.
Ankle sprains can be successfully treated using the RICE method – rest, icing, compression and elevation. The injured soccer player should rest the ankle for 24 hours, applying ice packs to it for 20 minute intervals every 2 hours. Wrapping an elastic bandage from the toes to the calf should provide sufficient compression, while keeping the ankle above hip or heart level can alleviate persistent swelling.
Future sprains can be prevented with proper athletic footwear and stretches. One such stretch involves leaning on a table or wall with one leg in front of the other. Keep the back leg straight while bending your front leg. You should feel this stretch in the Achilles tendon of your back leg. Try maintaining this pose for about 15 to 30 seconds.
Hamstring Pulls, Tears and Sprains – The hamstring consists of five tendons that extend along the back of your knees. Like the Achilles tendon and ankle ligaments, athletes who do a lot of running are at an elevated risk of suffering hamstring damage. Hamstring injuries often announce their arrival with a short burst of pain; afterwards, the patient finds moving the leg to be a rather stressful endeavor.
Hamstring injuries can vary significantly in severity. A minor injury to the hamstring will lead to stiffness and soreness in the back of the thigh, whereas more severe injuries can cause swelling and constant pain. If the hamstring has been heavily damaged, the patient will probably struggle with walking until the injury heals. The RICE method, along with anti-inflammatory medications and thigh wraps, can be used to accelerate the patient’s recovery.
Stretching the hamstring before a soccer match can help ward off crippling hamstring injuries. One basic hamstring stretch involves placing one leg in front of your body, with the foot slanted upward. Tilt your pelvis area forward while keeping your upper body straight. After 10 to 20 seconds, stretch your other leg.
ACL Tears – When a star athlete tears an ACL, the injury tends to receive quite a bit of press. There is good reason for all of this attention. The anterior cruciate ligament stabilizes your knee joints, preventing the lower leg from swinging too far outward as you walk. Sports that require the body to make sharp shifts in direction and abruptly stop moving can exact a heavy toll on the ACLs, causing them to tear either partially or completely. Most ACL tears require surgery to fix, effectively putting athletes on the sidelines until the tear has fully healed.
Preventing ACL is hardly an exact science; researchers are still developing and experimenting with exercise regimens aimed at reducing the risk of ACL tears. The programs that have been developed tend to emphasize plyometric exercises, which consist of activities that quickly stretch and contract the body’s muscles. One such plyometric exercise involves jumping on and off of a box. It’s probably best not to learn these techniques on your own; your local gym might offer classes that teach various types of plyometric activities.