If your child is one of the more than 3 million U.S. kids who play soccer, you may spend your weeknights at practice and your Saturdays at tournaments, but you probably don't worry too much about injuries. After all, soccer is much safer than a contact sport like football, right?
The truth is that youth soccer players experience more injuries than any other sport, according to a report by the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. Researchers cited statistics from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission that found more than 185,000 injuries to soccer players, with 44 percent of those occurring in kids under age 15.
As a parent, knowing which injuries are most common and which deserve extra attention can be important. Here are three of the most likely to occur and what you should know.
1. Growth and Development Injuries
In the past, children would play a sport for only a few months, then take a break or participate in a different activity that used different muscles. But these days, as young people tend to specialize in a sport and practice or play it year-round, they are more susceptible to growth plate injuries and other chronic issues related to overuse.
These injuries tend to be caused by using cleats on hard ground without enough support. They usually cause swelling and inflammation in the affected area, and pain during practice or play or sometimes just from everyday activities like walking or standing. Three common issues are:
- Sever's Disease - inflammation and pain in the growth plate that ends in the heel.
- Osgood-Schlatter's Disease - inflammation and pain in the knee area.
- Patellofemoral Syndrome - swelling behind the kneecap caused by friction on the cartilage.
These are often treated with rest, ice, compression and elevation - the RICE protocol. Your sports medicine practitioner can provide exercises to strengthen the impacted areas and help reduce the odds of developing an ongoing condition.
2. Ligament Injuries
Injuries to the Anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, are especially common in soccer and affect girls two to three times more than boys. Some sports medicine practitioners attribute this to weaker quadricep muscles in girls, and can assist with helping both female and male soccer players to strengthen the leg muscles to avoid stressing the ligaments.
It's not just football players who crash into each other head first who sustain concussions, a type of brain injury. Soccer players, who do not wear helmets, are susceptible to head injuries when they contact each other or even when they do headers (advancing the ball with the head).
The Centers for Disease Control have partnered with the most popular youth soccer organizations, the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) and U.S. Youth Soccer, to promote training for coaches and team managers about concussion and its dangers. Parents should also know the warning signs, which include:
- Drowsiness or fatigue after a head injury
- Confusion, slurred speech or strange behavior
- Dizziness, nausea or vomiting
- Headache that doesn't go away
- Pupils of eyes are different sizes
If you suspect your child has incurred a head injury as a result of playing soccer or any sport, stop him or her from participating and go to a physician for assessment.
In addition, if you ever have any doubts about your child's health or well-being, or suspect that overuse injuries may be causing issues, see your pediatrician or a sports medicine professional.