Soccer: The world’s football

By David Pearce, M.D.

Known the world over as futbol, soccer is undoubtedly the world’s most popular sport.

Previously a relatively little sport in America, it is certainly not so anymore when a 14-year-old teen-ager named Freddie Adu signs a contract with Nike.

Soccer’s growth has been tremendous in the last 10 to 20 years in America. Established leagues allow children as young as four years old to participate. Many boys and girls start that young and stay involved up through high school and into college.

Soccer participation has many benefits for the child and young adult athlete. It teaches coordination, promotes fitness and provides a positive social environment for developing minds. Studies have shown it may increase bone density in girls. This may help prevent osteoporosis in the elderly, a significant health problem, particularly for women.

Unfortunately, soccer is a sport and like all athletic disciplines, it is

associated with injuries. The standard bumps, strains and sprains are fairly common. Ankle sprains, knee ligament injuries and even concussions can occur. Injuries do increase and can become more serious as athletes grow up.

Goalies are more commonly injured than any other position. In youth soccer, goalies often are not allowed, so as goalies are added, more serious injuries can occur.

Female soccer players, unfortunately, carry a larger risk for a more serious injury than do their male counterparts. Women soccer players, for example, are four times more likely to tear their anterior cruciate ligament or ACL. This is not only for soccer, but other sports carry similar risks for women athletes.

Tips to preventing soccer injuries

Each year, more than 477,500 soccer-related injuries are treated in hospitals, doctor’s offices, clinics, ambulatory surgery centers and hospital emergency rooms.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons offers the following tips to prevent soccer injuries:

• Always take time to warm-up and stretch. Research studies have shown that cold muscles are more prone to injury. Warm-up with jumping jacks, stationary cycling or running or walking in place for three to five minutes. Then slowly and gently stretch, holding each stretch for 30 seconds.

• Wear shin guards to help protect your lower legs. Soccer tournament records have shown that most players who sustained lower leg injuries were not protected by adequate shin guards.

• Wear shoes with molded cleats or ribbed soles. Shoes with screw-in cleats often are associated with a higher risk of injury. However, shoes with screw-in cleats should be worn when more traction is needed, such as on a wet field with high grass.

• Use synthetic, non-absorbent balls on wet playing fields. Leather balls can become water-logged and very heavy when wet, putting players at high risk for injury.

• Don’t crawl or sit on the goal or hang from the net. Injuries and deaths have occurred when goals have fallen onto players.

• Soccer goals should be well padded and properly secured. Padding the goal decreases the incidence of head injuries when the goalie and other team members collide with the posts.

• The playing surface must be kept in good condition. Holes on the playing field should be filled, bare spots reseeded, and debris removed.

• Be knowledgeable about first aid and be able to administer it for minor injuries, such as facial cuts, bruises, minor tendinitis, strains and sprains.

• Be prepared for emergency situations and have a plan to reach medical personnel to treat injuries, such as concussions, dislocations, elbow contusions, wrist or finger sprains and fractures.