The high school soccer season is pretty much over for most teams that didn’t make it deep into the playoffs.
What I am quickly learning is that soccer literally never ends and most of these athletes have already started practicing with the next team.
The unfortunate part is that a lot of athletes get hurt during the season. This means that a lot of young girls and boys need to do whatever they can so that they can get back on the field for the Spring.
Yet, we wonder how the injury rate is so high in this sport. The lack of an off season definitely plays a role in it.
Spoiler alert- most injuries are not preventable. We can at least put our athletes in the best position they need to succeed and become resilient to some of the most common ones.
There are a few injuries that stick out in particular for soccer players. Outside of concussions and other injuries that come from contact/collisions, we can do a lot to train for durability and resistance of these types of injuries.
With the high incidence of them, many parents and athletes are getting the appropriate training during the winter. The ones that don’t are really playing with fire.
Let’s look at a couple of common injuries.
At torn hamstring is very uncommon for young athletes. To completely tear the hamstring requires a lot of force being placed on it. Most young athletes are not capable of developing this type of force.
As we age, our bones become really strong but tendons and ligaments stay the same. Young kids are more likely to break a bone than tear a ligament than older athletes and vice versa.
A hamstring strain simply comes down to the muscle being too weak to handle the demands placed on it. Every athlete that comes to us needs help with their hamstring strength because it is an under-active muscle group.
The best exercises for building hamstring strength are RDL’s, GHR Leg Curls, and all variations of the two. They are not easy and not everyone will be able to jump into them right away. This is where some single or double leg bucks, PB hamstring curls, and hip hinging with a dowel are valuable.
Most athletes are really quad dominant because of the extensive running that they do. When the quads are really strong and the hamstrings are really weak the leg becomes imbalanced. When the quad is constantly pulling on the knee and the hamstrings are not there to balance it out, we get to our next injury.
Quad Strain/Patellofemoral Pain
We can have the same scenario as above where the muscle groups cannot handle the demands placed on it and the muscles strain or pull as a result.
The more likely scenario is that the muscles are overused and cannot handle any more demands (potentially in combination with being weak).
In this scenario a foam roller is essential. Rolling out the quads will help reduce some tension in the muscles and shut them off.
We then need to double up on hamstring training to provide balance to the knee. Taking some of the pressure away from the quad will reduce that overuse.
The athlete should also strongly consider where they can get some rest. These overuse injuries must be treated with a reduction of volume while strength and tissue quality are worked on.
We also need to hit ankle and hip mobility. The knee is a stable joint sandwiched between those two mobile joints. If those joints lose mobility then the knee is going to lose its stability. The quads will then go crazy trying to create that stability. Improving hip and ankle mobility allows the quads to take a breather.
Ligament Damage in the Knee
ACL and MCL are the heavy hitters here. I think I remember hearing that 70% can happen without contact. That number is staggering because it is the type of injury that is most trainable (because I don’t like using preventable).
A lack of hamstring strength and hip control are two big risk factors in these injuries.
The MCL usually goes when we are moving side to side. Hip control is needed to flex the hip and knee when slowing down. Lacking this ability puts the knee at risk.
As mentioned earlier, a strong quad with weak hamstrings ruins the balance of the knee joint. In this case, the quad will pull on the shin towards the thigh. This creates hyperextension in the knee. The ACL is designed to prevent hyperextension but it is not really a strong ligament. If we are in this alignment at rest then constant tension will be placed on the ligament. It is only a matter of time before it gives out.
The same hamstring exercises I mentioned above will fit the bill yet again. I also like to use some glute exercises like bridges, deadlifts, and single leg work to build some glute strength and hip control.