Soccer injuries in children and teenagers
Kids soccer (football) is massive in both the US and the UK and Europe and with the promise of a lucrative sporting career, players and parents alike are taking youth soccer far more seriously than ever before.
With an increase in perceived importance, usually comes an increase in training and competition which can lead to injuries. Whilst some are unavoidable, as a result of sudden forces during tackles and falls, others can be avoided through good training and warm-up techniques and wearing suitable footwear and protective equipment at all times.
Injuries in kids are often similar to those of adults, although bone fractures are less common due to their young age and immaturity of their bones making them softer than adult bones. The other difference with children’s sporting injuries is the frequency of apophysitis type injuries related to growth spurts and tension on soft bony attachment points.
With all of this in mind, here are the top 5 most common kids’ injuries and conditions which should be on every soccer coach and parents radar:
- Severs Disease
Severs is a form of apophysitis which causes pain at the back of the heel, where the achilles tendon attaches to the heel bone. It tends to occur in children between the ages of 8 and 15. The condition flares up after periods of activity and then eases with rest. The calf muscles are usually tight and so ankle range of motion is reduced.
Whilst to some extent this condition is unavoidable due to periods of rapid growth, it can certainly be managed to help reduce pain and allow continued activity. If this condition develops, apply ice to the back of the ankle regularly and try to get the child stretching the calf muscles, gently, but on a frequent daily basis. Activity modification may be necessary during flare-ups and a heel raise can be placed in the shoes temporarily to reduce the stretch on the Achilles. More information on severs disease
- Osgood Schlatters Disease
Osgood schlatters disease is another form of apophysitis, which occurs below the knee joint, where the patella tendon attaches to the shin bone (Tibia). Again it is caused by rapid periods of growth and pain tends to come and go in waves. After a while, a bony lump may start to appear at the attachment point at the top of the Tibia. The quad muscles are often tight, reducing the range of knee flexion possible.
Again this condition needs to be managed to help ease symptoms and prevent long term injuries. Gentle stretching of the quad muscles can help with flexibility and range of motion and applying ice after exercise will ease pain and inflammation. During a flare-up, it may be necessary to have a period of relative rest by reducing training duration and intensity. More information on osgood schlatters disease.
- Ankle Sprains
An ankle sprain is a common footballing injury which occurs when the ankle is rolled over and one or more ligaments are damaged, most often on the outer ankle. The ankle will usually swell quickly and sometimes extensively and bruising may develop within 1-2 days. Depending on the severity of the injury, the child may not be able to weight bear and in this case an X-ray is recommended to rule out a fracture.
Initial treatment should centre on the PRICE principle of protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation which in combination help to reduce pain, swelling and bleeding.
Whilst ankle sprains usually occur as a result of a sudden force and in that way may not be avoidable, certain exercises can be performed which improve the strength, balance and co-ordination at the ankle to reduce the risk of it twisting. Examples include resistance band inversion and eversion exercises and wobble balance board training. More information on ankle sprains.
- Hamstring Strains
Hamstring injuries are another very common soccer injury which is no different in adolescents. They start with a sudden pain in the back of the thigh, usually when sprinting. It may be difficult to weight bear fully, there may be pain on bending the knee and it may not be possible to fully straighten the knee. Bruising may develop later in more severe cases. PRICE applies again for this injury and examination by a Doctor is recommended for moderate to severe cases.
Hamstring strains can be caused by factors such as tight or weak hamstring muscles, weak glutes and a lack of warm-up. So, whilst you can’t guarantee to prevent them, you can certainly take steps to reduce the risk. Ensure all players warm-up thoroughly before sport, with a pulse raiser of gradually increasing intensity and speed, dynamic stretching and soccer drills like passing and shooting. In training, ensure they stretch the hamstring (and all other leg muscles) before and after, as well as in an everyday stretching routine and strengthen the hamstrings and glutes with exercises like lunges and squats. More information on hamstring strains.
As any teacher or parent will tell you, viruses and colds etc are rife in children and can spread through a class or group like wildfire! If your child or a child in your team develops such an illness it is important that they rest and take time to recover fully before returning to sports. Attempting to play when under the weather will only serve to make the illness worse and will be far from enjoyable for the child, as well as increasing the risk of the illness being passed on to other team members.
Usually if a child is ill they don’t want to play and will make this clear, but in some cases, the most motivated of children may insist they are fine and want to play. It is hard in these cases to know what to do, but the best advice is to go with your instincts when deciding whether to allow them to play.
When returning to sport after an illness, make sure the child starts gently with a training session of lower intensity and duration than they are used to. If this goes well and after a couple of days rest they are raring to go, they may return to soccer as usual. More on Viral illnesses here.
Whilst in many ways children’s soccer injuries are similar to those sustained by adult players, there are certain points which must be taken into account. A serious injury at a young age can impact on a child’s future involvement and enjoyment of the sport and so all care should be taken to avoid injuries and seek the appropriate treatment and care if one should occur. Children’s bodies are also not as strong or robust as an adult and so overtraining is something to consider in children who train hard from an early age. Try to ensure they take part in other forms of sport and exercise, both for variation for the mind and body and that they also have two full rest days a week.