Due to the very physical, fast paced and semi-contact nature of the sport of soccer, injuries are a regular occurrence. More often than not, injury to the knee is very common and can involve many different structures due to the complex nature of the joint. Injury to the lower limb and knee can involve ligaments, tendons, meniscus, or articular cartilage. 2 of the more common lower limb injuries that can occur while playing soccer involve ACL sprains (ligament) and Hamstring strains (mucles/tendons).
ACL Sprains - The ACL is the anterior cruciate ligament which is one of the most frequently damaged ligaments in the game of soccer. It is situated deep within the knee joint and has the job of maintaining the position of the tibia (shin bone) underneath the femur (thigh bone). The majority of these injuries occur in a non-contact situation at a point where the player lands or decelerates with a twisting motion. Injury to the ACL can also occur following contact such as a slide tackle from an opponent.
Hamstring Strains - The hamstrings (group of 3 large muscles on the back of the thigh) are the most commonly strained muscles in soccer, followed closely by the adductor (groin) muscles. A strain of the hamstrings most often occurs during a burst of speed especially in muscles which are either fatigued or have been inadequately warmed-up.
What can you do to reduce the chance of injury?
Warm-up : Warm-ups should be practiced in all sports as they aim to increase the muscle temperature and range of motion. Performing a warm-up consisting of light aerobic work (ex. jogging/cycling/skipping), active (or dynamic) stretching (e.g. walking lunges/heel to bum/high knees) and skill drills can dramatically reduce the incidence of muscle strains especially.
Fitness: More injuries occur when an athlete becomes tired and fatigued. For this reason, conditioning should be a major aspect of any athletes training. This means being fit to play the sport. For example, soccer players require bouts of sprinting, followed by jogging, walking and sprinting again. Their training therefore should represent this and not be comprised of continuous slow runs.
Resistance training: Resistance, or strength training can greatly benefit a players performance and also reduce the risk of injury. Soccer strength is mostly required in the legs, although the core and upper body should not be neglected as they play a role in centering the player and maintaining balance. An athlete with a strong core and good sense of proprioception (balance) is less likely to sustain an injury due to non-contact mechanisms which were described above
Cool down: Not performing a thorough cool down is a mistake made too regularly by many athletes. A cool down serves to reduce muscle aching over the subsequent 48 hours. However, it also has a longer term effect on injury prevention. Research has shown that stretching the muscles following sport will help to reduce the post-exercise tightening of muscles. Over a long period reducing this tightness will help reduce the chance of injury. For the sport of soccer, it is most important to focus on stretching the muscles that surround the hip and knee. These include the hip flexors, gluteal muscles, groin muscles, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles.
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