Children love the sport, but can we make it safer?
For many parents across the nation, fall youth soccer season has kicked off.
That means that their children who play the sport are at risk of getting hurt, and those injuries are apparently skyrocketing.
Researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio completed the first comprehensive national study on children’s soccer injuries.
They assessed data on children from 7 to 17 years of age from 1990 to 2014. They published their findings in the journal Pediatrics.
Researchers said that during that time there was a 78 percent increase in soccer-related injuries treated in hospital emergency departments. The annual rate of injuries has soared by 111 percent.
The increase in injuries is more than the increase in the number of children playing, researchers said.
Most injuries happened when a player was struck by another player or the ball, or from falling.
Children ages 12 to 17 accounted for 73 percent of injuries.
Girls were more likely than boys to incur a knee or ankle injury.
In recent years, the media has focused primarily on dangers associated with youth football — namely, concussions.
In the Nationwide Children’s Hospital study, concussions made up 7 percent of injuries, but the annual rate of them went up 1,600 percent over the 25-year span.
Also, 35 percent of injuries were sprains and strains, 23 percent were fractures, and 22 percent were soft tissue injuries.
A 2010 American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) report states that most injuries in the sport are to the lower extremities.
“While we can’t tell from our data why the rate of concussions among soccer players is increasing, it is important for athletes and families to be aware of this issue and what they can do to reduce the risks,” Tracy Mehan, manager of translational research at the Center for Injury Research and Policy, said in a statement.
“Young athletes take longer to recover from concussions than older athletes and they can put themselves at risk for second-impact syndrome and repeat concussions if they return to play too soon — both of which can lead to serious, life-altering injuries,” Mehan added.
In the United States, about 15 million people participate in the sport.
There are two national youth organizations — US Youth Soccer and the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) — with 3 million and 650,000 registered players, respectively.
From 2001 to 2007, the number of female adolescents playing went up 7 percent. Among high school students, more than 700,000 played from 2008 to 2009, according to the AAP report.
The U.S. Soccer Federation, for example, runs a program called Recognize to Recover, which aims to teach players and coaches about game safety.
AYSO also administers training for coaches and players. And Sam Snow, director of coaching for US Youth Soccer, says his organization offers a training program for coaches, similar to USA Football’s Heads Up Football program.
So why are injuries going up?
Dr. Elizabeth Matzkin, an orthopedic surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said more young people are participating in sports and there are more opportunities to do so.
Children are also specializing in sports at earlier ages, which could be a reason for the rise in injuries.
“Over 50 percent of these injuries are from overuse and are potentially preventable,” she told Healthline.
Snow said parents can do their part to help kids avoid getting hurt.
Make sure they follow a healthy diet and get adequate sleep. Playing with kids — any activity, really — can also help their physical literacy.
Teens should be encouraged to perform the right amount of physical training in order to excel in sports.
“The most important detail for the parents, though, is to help monitor the total physical load on the player,” Snow told Healthline. “They know the extent of the total physical experience the player is having. The right balance of activity and rest, recovery, regeneration is crucial to reducing the possibility of injury during competition.”
Nationwide Children’s Hospital recommends that players participate in pre-season conditioning, warm up thoroughly, wear protective gear, and learn about concussions.
They also say coaches should limit heading the ball until children are at least 11 years of age.