I see a significant number of injuries from soccer in my office. Most of them involve the lower extremities. They may be from a traumatic injury like a kick to the leg or a twist to the knee, or may result from overuse. Sprains of joints and strains of muscles and tendons are the most common injuries, but cartilage tears, fractures and contusions do occur. Shin splints, patella tendinitis and Achilles tendinitis are the most common overuse injuries. In these cases, there is no one event that causes the pain. Instead, the pain builds up over time. I also see several stress fractures every year. These occur when the bone becomes weak from overuse. It’s often pretty tough to distinguish between soft tissue injuries and injury to the bone, so if leg pain does not improve after a few days of rest, you should consult your physician.
Treating soccer injuries can be tricky. I strive to limit the time lost from training while ensuring a safe return to play. For most acute injuries, a short period of rest with ice and elevation will do the trick. For some of the longer term injuries, especially overuse injuries, relative rest is possible. This means that the athlete can continue to do some modified training while avoiding painful activities. For example, I will often have players work on drills, but avoid scrimmaging. Sometimes I have to put them on a bike or in the pool to maintain cardiovascular stamina while avoiding a lot of weightbearing on an injured leg. Rarely are players completely restricted from activity for a long-term basis.
Prevention of soccer injuries often involves just using common sense. Use well-fitting cleats and shin guards. Watch out for mobile goals that can fall on players. Remember to hydrate adequately. Maintain proper fitness—we know that athletes who are stronger and more prepared physically have lower risk of injury. If an injury does occur, returning to play after a player is healed needs to be gradual, progressing through aerobic conditioning, strength training, and then agility training.
Staying fit for the field is easy with proper preparation, but injuries do occur. Playing through pain is often not the answer. Never hesitate to consult your physician if you are unsure.