Soccer is not only one of the fastest growing sports, but it’s also one of the most fast-paced. Like any contact sport there is always a potential for injury, but during the juvenile and teenage years, those chances are higher simply due to growth patterns and growing bodies. The game generally gets progressively more aggressive as children get older, and sprains, strains, and fractures are some of the most common acute injuries on the pitch. Sometimes the biggest danger simply comes from literally playing soccer too much. Overuse injuries can keep kids sidelined and also mean eager young players are suddenly quite unhappy. Dr. Barrett Little, with OrthoCarolina Rock Hill shares some ways parents, can help deflect the risk.
1. What type of stretches are important for young athletes after training sessions and games?
The main muscles to stretch after training sessions are hamstrings, quadriceps, and gastroc-soleus(calf). These are big lower extremity muscles that have to do a lot of work during games, so it’s important to give them attention.
2. Are there guidelines for a recommended amount of training time for young athletes?
As you might imagine, it’s generally best to progress into more training time with older age. Here are some recommended guidelines:
- Ages 8 to 11: 20 games per year with two to three practices per game and two days of rest per week. *Practice no more than 60 minutes
- Ages 12 to 18: 30 games per year with two to three practices per game and two days of rest per week. *Practice 75-90 minutes
- *Ages 15 to 16: No more than 160 game minutes per 72 hour period.
- *Ages 17 to 18: No more than 180 game minutes per 72 hour period
3. Is there injury prevention warm-up exercises or stretches that soccer players can participate in?
The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) is a well-respected international soccer organization that has suggested guidelines for soccer players called the FIFA 11. These injury prevention exercises are recommended by consensus opinion of expert healthcare providers and backed by research. They include running exercises, strength, plyometrics and balance exercises specially geared towards soccer players. You can find them here.
4. What are the industry recommendations to prevent overuse injuries?
One of the top things we stress to parents and players is that off-time and cross-training are critical to recovery and injury prevention. Encouraging players to participate in a variety of sports during the year is the most important thing a young player can do to avoid overuse and burnout. It can be hard sometimes especially when a child is laser-focused on developing skills in one particular sport, but young athletes’ growing bodies are different than those of adults and are more prone to certain injuries. Cross-training allows them to develop other skills which can translate onto the soccer field and increase their performance.
5. How important is proper equipment (cleats, shin guards) to injury prevention?
Proper shin guards are very important to prevent tibia and fibular injuries as well as soft tissue injuries from cleats. They should fit snuggly and comfortably. You should look for shin guards that hit just at the prominent bone below the knee, or the tibial tubercle. Cleats are important for different play surfaces. Shorter cleats are recommended for artificial playing surfaces whereas standard cleats are recommended for natural surfaces. Data suggest injuries to knees and feet may be increased when playing on artificial turf. Round cleats versus blade cleats have shown no difference with regard to knee injuries.
6. What are the obvious and hidden signs of concussions?
Concussions can be difficult to spot which is why it is very important to monitor young athletes both on and off the field for symptoms. If a child seems to have a loss of consciousness or is confused, these are obvious signs he or she could have a concussion. If a child is sensitive to light, has headaches, unable to focus, have irritability, insomnia or fatigue, these are potential hidden signs of concussion and the child should be seen by a medical provider. The mainstay of treatment for concussions is mental and physical rest.
7. Is there a game to rest ratio that should be followed to prevent injuries?
Rest is so important to allow optimal recovery, not only for health but for performance in the next game. There should be between 48-72 hours of rest between games for young athletes.
8. What type of aches and pains should not be ignored and what are those to seek medical attention for?
Kids are bound to have minor scrapes and pains, but there are more serious injuries to watch for. The first tip for pain care is R-I-C-E (rest, ice, compression, elevation). If pain does not improve with this technique and over-the-counter ibuprofen the child should be evaluated by a healthcare professional. Aches and pains that wake an athlete up from sleep certainly merit seeing a medical professional.
9. How does proper nutrition come into play for injury prevention?
Proper nutrition and hydration are important for all young athletes. Calcium and Vitamin D are vital to bone health. Peak bone density occurs between the ages of 16-22 in females and 18-26 in males so adequate nutrition is important for long term bone health.
Here are some general guidelines for calcium and Vitamin D:
- Ages 4 to 8: 400 mg per day
- Ages 8 to19: 1300 mg per day
- 1000 IU per day after age 5
Balanced nutrition will also help the body recover more quickly after a competition. Poor nutrition can lead to earlier fatigue of muscles and therefore increase the chances of musculoskeletal injury. If you are unsure if your child’s diet is adequate you should see his or her doctor.
10. What is the number one piece of advice you would give parents to help prevent injuries in young athletes?
Expose young athletes to and encourage participation in a variety of sports. Not only is a variety of activities important to help children decide what they love but it is one of the best things parents can do to prevent injuries. Sports specialization should not occur until the young skeleton has nearly fully developed, age 13-14 in girls and age 14-15 in boys.
Dr. Barrett Little, MD is a Sports Medicine Physician at the OrthoCarolina Rock Hill location and Fort Mill.