As you may have noted in the World Cup coverage over the past few weeks, there are several injury risks in the game of soccer, including all sorts of sprains, strains, and fractures in the extremities, neck, and back. Most recently, Cristiano Ronaldo, the famed player from Portugal, received media attention for a knee injury. Many wondered if he would be able to compete in the much-anticipated game against the US.
While Ronaldo was fortunate enough to be able to compete, not all can be so lucky. Injuries can put an end to a player’s career, or at the very least sideline him for several weeks or months. Let’s discuss some of the most common soccer injuries, as well as some preventative measures you can take.
While other soccer injuries can be physically quite painful and debilitating, concussions may be the most worrisome. A concussion is brought on by trauma to the brain, either by a direct blow to the head or an indirect blow to the body.
Here’s how it works. The brain floats inside the head, surrounded by cerebral spinal fluid that acts as a shock absorber. However, the force from impact can cause the head to rapidly accelerate, resulting in the brain striking the inner skull. If the head rapidly rotates from one side to the other, a rotational concussion can occur, resulting in strain of the brain tissues. The neural pathways in the brain are delicate, and damage can cause neurological disturbances.
Symptoms of a concussion include a headache or feeling of pressure in the head, confusion, nausea or vomiting, loss of consciousness, an inability to recall events before or after the injury, dizziness, clumsiness, lack of balance, double or blurry vision, sensitivity to light or noise, trouble concentrating, and changes in behavior, personality, or mood. Keep in mind that symptoms do not always appear immediately; it can sometimes take hours, or even days, for some symptoms to show up. Even if a player feels fine after a collision, it is a good idea to assess the situation further. Untreated concussions can result in long-term neurological problems, particularly in those who have sustained multiple concussions. Although rare, untreated concussions can also result in swelling in the brain, permanent brain damage, and even death.
You may have heard the controversy during Uruguay’s World Cup match against England, when Uruguayan midfielder Alvaro Pereira suffered a distressing blow, but continued to play without a proper concussion evaluation. Currently, FIFA’s rules do not allow for enough time to evaluate possible concussions, and once a player is replaced, he cannot rejoin the game. This decision has led some to call for changes in FIFA’s rules.
Sprains, Strains, and Fractures
The majority of soccer injuries occur in the feet and legs. The ankle, knee, and hamstrings are the most commonly injured areas. In the knee, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries or tears can sideline a player for months. The ACL is one of the main stabilizing elements in the knee, and an injury to this ligament can result in injury to other structures within the knee. Symptoms of an ACL tear include a popping or snapping sound when the injury occurs, followed by pain, swelling, and instability in the knee.
In the ankle, sprains are very common. They usually occur when the foot rolls under, either through running into a bump on the field or collision with another player. Those who sprain an ankle will likely need to wear a brace for several months to help support the ankle and prevent further injury. Collision can also result in fractures in the lower extremities.
Because there is so much stop-and-go movement in soccer, injuries in the hamstrings and quadriceps are common. While not as severe as a tear in a ligament or facture in a bone, straining or injuring the hamstrings or quadriceps can take a player out of the game for days or weeks.
Taking Preventative Measures
A proper warm-up is a good start to help prevent injuries. Remember to stay hydrated, and pay attention to your body. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and get checked out by a doctor. Many injuries will get worse if left untreated.
Because soccer injuries are often the result of contact or collision, it is important to make sure your shin guards and cleats fit properly to allow for maximum protection and stability. Although collision cannot always be avoided, players can take care to prevent head injuries as a result of heading the ball. Proper form involves using the forehead to make contact with the ball, restricting head motion with the neck muscles, and propelling the body from the waist with the leg muscles.
Because soccer is a contact sport, it is not always possible to prevent injury. However, with the proper precautions and medical care, we can help to decrease the damage done by these injuries.