According to a study reported in the February 2007 issue of the American Journal of Sports Medicine, youth soccer players (ages 2 to 18) suffer around 120,000 injuries each year sufficiently serious to require a trip to a hospital emergency room. The total number of soccer-related injuries, including those treated outside of a hospital ER, is estimated to be nearly 500,000 per year.
A significant number of these injuries could be prevented if parents, athletes and soccer organizations employed the following safety measures:
- Reduce injuries through proper conditioning. Conditioning-related injuries, such as strains and sprains occur most often at the beginning of a season when kids are most likely to be out of shape. Such injuries are preventable if, before the start of a season, a child follows a conditioning program designed specifically for soccer. Proper conditioning is particularly important for girls. Not only are girls predisposed to instability or dislocation of the kneecap (patella), pain and problems under the kneecap, but the twisting and cutting in soccer make them particularly vulnerable to non-contact injuries of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), which they suffer at a rate two to ten times higher than boys. Proper conditioning (especially building up hamstrings and inner quadriceps muscles) and teaching girls to pivot, jump, and land with flexed knees and employ a three-step with the knee flexed instead of a one-step stop with the knee extended have been shown to prevent some of these injuries.
- Reduce injuries through proper stretching, warm-ups and cooldowns. Research shows that cold muscles are more injury prone and athletes with poor muscle flexibility experience more soreness, tenderness and pain after exercise. Unlike sports like gymnastics or swimming, soccer does not develop natural flexibility. As a result, stretching, particularly of the groin, hip, hamstrings, Achilles tendon, and quadriceps, during warm-ups before practices and games and during the cool-down after playing, is particularly vital in reducing the risk of strains and sprains. Stretching is particularly critical for soccer players between the ages of 10 and 13 who have less natural flexibility because their bones are growing faster than their muscles. It is also critically important for girls, who need to strengthen and stretch leg muscles to reduce the risk of ACL injuries.
- Reduce injuries by properly maintaining the field. By some estimates, fully 25% of all soccer injuries result from poor field conditions. Don't leave it to the referee to check the field for holes, puddles, broken glass, or stones or other debris. Be proactive by setting up a field detail.
- Reduce injuries by wearing proper shin guards. One recent study revealed that among one league of youth soccer players, the shins were the third most likely area to be injured. Of the seventeen fractures, four were to the tibia (shinbone). The study confirmed that shin guards significantly decreased the force to the tibia compared to impacts without shin guards. Make sure the shin guards meet appropriate safety (i.e. ASTM) standards.
- Reduce injuries from goal post collisions. Soccer goalies suffer a disproportionate number of injuries, many from absorbing the impact of colliding with the post of a heavy, stationary, unpadded goal post. A study by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) concluded that padded goal posts significantly reduced the number and severity of such injuries, and were especially effective in reducing head injuries. In another study of 471 soccer games using a goal post padding system developed by Dr. David Janda, an orthopedic surgeon and director of the Institute for Preventive Sports Medicine in Ann Arbor, Michigan, there were seven major collisions between a goalie and the post, but no injuries.