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Baylor expert breaks down potential soccer injuries

Our expert says when it comes to soccer-related activities, don't play through the pain.

From World Cup to youth leagues, soccer-related injuries usually involve the knee, foot and ankle, and the most common require rest and rehab to be back on the field, says a Baylor College of Medicine expert.

“The most common lower extremity injuries seen in soccer are ankle sprains, muscle strains and contusions. Fortunately, most of these can be treated with a period of rest, ice and immobilization followed by rehabilitation,” said Dr. Jason Ahuero, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Baylor, who specializes in foot and ankle surgery.

Lower extremity injuries

Rarely, ankle or lower leg fractures can occur as a result of contact with another player.  These injuries may or may not require surgery and usually result in a prolonged recovery period with loss of playing time. The most common injuries requiring surgery in soccer are knee injuries, including meniscus (cartilage) tears and ligament tears, specifically anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries. These are common in soccer and other contact sports that require a lot of cutting or pivoting. Both injuries can be treated arthroscopically, but recovery time can vary depending on the procedure performed from three to four weeks to six to nine months. 

Overuse

In addition to traumatic injuries, soccer players are also prone to overuse injuries due to the rigorous training and game schedules. Common overuse injuries include tendonitis, shin splints and stress fractures. Most of these injuries can be treated with a period of rest and avoidance of the offending activity, however many players are inclined to try to “push through” the pain, only causing the condition to worsen, according to Ahuero.

In some cases of stress fractures, surgery may be required to get the bone to heal and allow the player to return to play. Any player with an injury that fails to improve after a few days of rest warrants evaluation by a physician to determine the cause of pain and establish a treatment plan. 

Concussions

Concussions are the most common head injury encountered in contact sports and represent an alteration in an athlete’s mental state due to head trauma, said Ahuero.

Current recommendations call for any athlete with a suspected concussion to be immediately held out from play or practice until they can be evaluated by a physician trained in the diagnosis and management of concussions. These athletes need to be monitored closely after injury for any sign of neurologic deterioration, which requires emergency medical attention. Most concussions are managed by a period of physical and mental rest until symptoms subside followed by a graduated return-to-play program with careful monitoring for recurrence of symptoms. Athletes sustaining multiple concussions over a short period of time may be at risk for permanent brain damage, and continuation in the sport should be carefully considered.

Prevention

According to Ahuero, many soccer-related injuries can be prevented by maintaining proper conditioning and gradually returning to full contact activities after an off-season. Overuse injuries can be prevented by avoiding overtraining and listening to one’s body, reducing training volume if pain develops. Soccer players should also be aware of field conditions and wear proper equipment including well-fitting cleats and shin guards.

Despite these precautions, occasionally injury cannot be avoided, and early consultation with a physician experienced in the management of soccer-related injuries will give the best chance of getting back in the game.