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Soccer’s worldwide popularity is undeniable. According to the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), an estimated quarter of a billion children and adults play the sport around the globe.

Although soccer may be safer than some other sports, it’s a fast-paced team sport that often includes falls and collisions. Injuries can range from minor cuts and bumps to much more serious injuries that need immediate medical care.

The most common soccer injuries include:

  • Cuts and bruises. These can happen anywhere on the body.
  • Sprains and strains. These are the most common lower body injuries, and typically affect the ankles and knees.
  • Fractures. These most often happen in the bones in the feet and legs as well as the arms, ribcage, and shoulders.
  • Head injuries. These include concussions.

Knowing more about the most common soccer injuries and how to prevent them may help keep you in the game longer. Read on to find out what you can do to lower your or your children’s risk of injury on the soccer field.

Bumps and bruises on the face and head are common in soccer. But the injury that’s the greatest concern is a concussion. A concussion is typically a mild injury to the brain that can cause:

  • headache
  • fuzzy thinking
  • dizziness
  • memory and balance problems
  • nausea
  • double or blurred vision

A concussion can happen when your head collides with the head, elbow, knee, or foot of another player, or if you accidentally hit your head on a goal post. It can also happen if you’re tackled hard and land on your head.

Heading the ball, which is a standard part of the game, is also a leading cause of head injuries. According to a 2018 study, heading the ball frequently in practices and games may play a greater role in brain injuries than on-field collisions.

One approach to reducing concussions is to limit the amount of heading and scrimmaging in practice. In fact, many youth soccer leagues have banned or are limiting heading the ball in practice.

Another way to prevent a head injury is to be aware of other players around you, especially when trying to head the ball. Be mindful of opponents who may be playing recklessly. Don’t be afraid to point those players out to coaches, who can alert a referee.

You may also want to look into wearing soccer headgear. A growing number of youth, high school, and college programs are starting to require headgear for both male and female players.

Because heading the ball repeatedly may be the most serious risk to the brain during a soccer game, focus on:

  • keeping your chin tucked and your neck rigid to reduce the whiplash effect that can lead to head and neck injuries
  • heading the ball with your forehead

With the amount of running, twisting, and turning that soccer demands, the lower extremity muscles and ligaments have to endure a lot of stress. On top of that, knees and calves often get hurt in collisions and falls.

Some of the most common leg injuries include:

ACL injuries

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the key ligaments that gives your knee stability. It connects the femur (thighbone) to the shinbone.

An ACL tear can happen if:

  • you’re running and change direction suddenly
  • you slow down or accelerate quickly
  • you jump and land awkwardly

Studies have shown that girls are at greater risk for ACL and other leg injuries. One reason may be that girls tend to have less neuromuscular control in their hips, which means they’re more likely to land lock-kneed or in a position that puts their knees and ankles at risk.

Meniscus tear

Another knee injury that is common on the soccer field is a tear of the meniscus. This is the cartilage that acts as a shock absorber in your knee. A sudden pivot or a blow to the knee can cause this cartilage to get damaged or torn.

According to Boston Children’s Hospital, these injuries are becoming more common in children. This is because children are taking part in organized sports, like soccer, at an earlier age. Also, if a child only focuses on and trains for one sport, it can increase the risk of a meniscus tear.

Shin injuries

One of the most common shin injuries is shin splints. The main symptom is pain along the lower front of your leg. It’s usually caused by excessive amounts of force on the shinbone and the surrounding tissues.

The excessive force causes the muscles in the calf to swell which, in turn, increases the pressure against the bone, leading to pain and inflammation.

Running for a long time can cause shin splints, as well as jumping, stopping suddenly, and changing direction.

Getting kicked in the shins is common in soccer, too. This can cause minor fractures, severe bruising, and lacerations.

One of the most important ways to help lower your risk of a knee or calf injury is to focus on your physical fitness. This includes doing regular exercises to strengthen the muscles around your ACL, such as your quadriceps, hip abductors, and calves.

Other ways to help prevent knee and leg injuries:

  • Warm up with some light jogging and dynamic stretches.
  • Wear well-fitting shin guards to avoid bumps and bruises to your shins.
  • Practice proper cutting techniques, including staying low to the ground when changing direction and engaging your core muscles when moving.
  • Spend 5 to 10 minutes doing gentle stretches when a game or practice is over.

An injury to the ligaments that stabilize your ankle is known as a sprained ankle. It usually happens when the ankle rolls too far to one side, stretching the ligaments in the joint.

Playing on an uneven field is a major cause of sprained ankles, along with planting your foot and changing direction suddenly.

As with knee and calf injury prevention, try to focus on strengthening your ankle with specific ankle exercises. Strengthening the muscles that support your ankle can boost the stability of your ankle and prevent injury.

Other tips to help avoid ankle injuries:

  • Avoid playing on an uneven field or one with holes or divots.
  • Make sure your cleats fit properly and are tied securely.
  • Wear an ankle brace or tape your ankle to improve stability.
  • Don’t play if you feel tired or lack energy.
  • Try to include ankle stretches when you cool down after playing.

  • Fractures. Falls and hard knocks in soccer can result in fractures to the wrist, finger, ankle, or collarbone. These can’t always be prevented, but being physically fit and not playing recklessly can help you avoid serious falls and collisions.
  • Heat-related issues. The nonstop activity in soccer can be exhausting, especially if you’re playing in hot weather. To avoid heat-related cramps and other problems, stay hydrated by drinking water or sports drinks before, during, and after practices and games. If possible, try to avoid the hottest times of the day and be sure to take frequent breaks.

Injuries are a risk in any sport, especially fast-paced team sports that often involve physical contact, like soccer.

One of the most important ways to help lower your risk of injuries is to focus on physical fitness, most especially exercises that can help strengthen the muscles that support your knees, ankles, and legs.

Wearing protective gear, like headgear and shin guards, can also help protect you from the consequences of a blow to the head or shins.