Foot and Ankle Injuries in Professional Soccer Players
You might say that professional soccer players use their lower bodies often. And if you did say that, you’d understating it.
Soccer players use their lower bodies A LOT. They twist, they turn, the change direction. Then they do it all again. All this movement can lead to twisted ankles, bent knees, and legs placed in bad positions.
Add opposing players trying to stick their legs in to steal the ball, and you've got a solid recipe for injuries. Especially to the feet and ankles. So let’s talk about foot and ankle injuries in soccer players. And outline what we can do to help our young players to stay healthy and injury free.
What are the most common injuries (in general) in Soccer Players?
First let's explore the most common injuries to soccer players. Then we'll move on to the feet and ankles.
Surprised to see this on the list? Many people equate concussions with sports such as football or ice hockey. But think about all the heading of the ball in soccer.
Athletes throwing their heads at a ball is a true recipe for concussions. A notorious situation is two playings jumping for a ball simultaneously. This can lead to smashed heads. And smashed heads lead to concussions.
Pro tip: Pick your battles. You can always win the ball back on the ground.
2. Groin Pull
This is self-explanatory. Groin pulls can result from improper stretching, or not stretching at all.
Pro tip: don't forget groin stretches during your warmup routine.
3. Hamstring strain, tear, or pull
You see these injuries often in professional soccer. To the spectator, the injury will seem to come out of nowhere, the player halting as if stung in the back of the thigh. Seasoned fans groan immediately when they see this happen to their favorite players. They know the hamstring is the problem.
How soon a player faced with this injury will return depends upon the severity of the injury.
Pro tip: Take time stretch. And watch how often the pros work to stay loose. Even the bench players run around on the sidelines to stay loose.
4. Muscle cramps
Being dehydrated can cause cramping. The body strains during these games, and water is what keeps the machine humming.
Pro tip: Stay hydrated, young athletes.
What are the most common foot and ankle injuries in Soccer Players?
Now let's talk about common foot and ankle injuries. As mentioned, soccer players manage to get this all-important part of the body hurt often. Here are the injuries that I see on a weekly basis during soccer season.
Ankle ligaments get damaged quite often in this sport. Sprained ankles fall into three categories based on their severity:
Grade 1 Ankle Sprain:
This grade of sprain involves slight stretching and some damage to the fibers (fibrils) of the ligament.
Grade one sprains will show the following symptoms:
A slight instability in the ankle
Pain in the ankle, especially with pressure (when you try to walk or run)
Stiffness in the ankle joint
With a grade one ankle sprain, we are usually looking at 5 - 14 days to full recovery. So, plan to be resting the ankle for a week or two before getting back out there at full speed.
Grade 2 Ankle Sprain:
A grade two ankle sprain takes longer to heal than a grade one. Why? Because with a grade two, you've torn some of the ligaments in the ankle (partial tear). That takes longer to heal.
Characteristics of a grade two ankle sprain:
A higher level of instability in the ankle
Swelling that is moderate to severe
With a grade one ankle sprain, we are usually looking at 4-6 weeks to full recovery. This injury that can take you out for much of the season, especially if you are a high school athlete.
Grade 3 Ankle Sprain:
This injury involves a complete tear of the ligaments, rendering the joint nonfunctional.
Here are the symptoms of a grade three sprain:
Significant instability in the joint
Major pain at the time of the injury, followed by a lack of pain after the injury
Recovery from a a grade three ankle sprain will take 8-12 weeks. This is the type of ankle sprain that can take a high school athlete out of the game for an entire season.
Suffering a toe fracture, in simple terms, means you broke your toe. We see fractures in two categories, which are traumatic fractures and stress fractures. Usually this happens because of a very hard impact to the toe.
Symptoms of Stress Fractures to the toe:
Pain during routine activies
Pain disappears while resting, but returns after resuming activities
Pain when you touch the injury at the point of fracture
Swelling with a lack of bruising
Symptoms of a traumatic fracture to the toe:
The toe looks "wrong" or crooked
Pain at the time of the injury and for a few hours after, and pain then subsides
Swelling and bruising
Achilles Tendonitis and Achilles TendoniTis
When an athlete has Achilles tendonitis it can cause inflammation of the tendon. This can lead to the tendon losing mass and developing small tears that may result in a rupture.
Achilles Tendon Ruptures
Ruptures occur when the tendon suffers decreased blood supply. This injury can happen when an athlete cuts or makes a sharp change in direction.
This is a the debilitating injury that we all associate with the achilles tendon. It is quite dramatic in nature.
How Can Soccer Players Avoid Injury to the Foot & Ankles?
So how can players avoid injury? I would never tell a player to think about getting injured (or avoiding injury) while playing. The last thing they need worry about is getting hurt while they are trying to do their best on the field.
At the same time, it's good to take whatever precautions we can. These include:
Wearing the Right Footwear
Proper footwear is important, whatever the sport. In soccer, the shoes we want to look for are tight and feature very rigid arches. You don't want to play soccer in loose shoes or shoes with bad traction.
If you are playing on a field, wear cleats. If playing on an indoor surface, get a pair of the specialized shoes that are available for that style of soccer.
We mentioned this before and we will again. Stretching is vital to promote the flexibility that the joints and muscles need.
Drinking water early and often gives the body the hydration it needs during strenuous activities. Staying well-hydrated will decrease the chances of injury.
Some soccer teams run several miles before the game to get warmed up. While that sounds extreme, it actually allows the athletes to warm up their muscles to the point that it seems they can run for miles without fatigue.
Have fun out there, and I hope I don't see you anytime soon!