Common Soccer Injuries: Prevention and Treatment

Sports Injuries

Apr 3, 2024


Soccer is, without question, the most popular sport in the world, and despite the prominence of other major sports like basketball and football, it is rapidly gaining popularity in the U.S. In fact, in the past four decades, the sport has experienced a nearly 300% participation growth in the youth circuit.

The steady rise of soccer as the sport of choice among young athletes can be explained by two main reasons: first, its popularity aligns with the growing number of girls participating in competitive sports. Second, soccer is seen as a less dangerous alternative to football, currently the most popular sport in America.

That said, soccer players encounter their fair share of accidents and injuries in the course of a match. In this article, we’ll identify the most common soccer injuries and how to prevent them. We’ll also discuss the causes and symptoms of specific soccer injuries and treatment options available for those who have suffered them.

The most common soccer injuries include:

  • ACL and meniscus injuries
  • Ankle sprains
  • Tendonitis
  • Shin splints
  • Stress fractures
  • Concussions

Does soccer have a high injury rate?

Not surprisingly, contact sports like basketball, football, and soccer are the sports with the most injuries. But compared to other contact sports, does soccer have a high injury rate?

In response to this question, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association compiled a report for the NCAA identifying the top college sports with the highest prevalence of injury. The sports with the highest injury rates are as follows:

  1. Men’s football
  2. Men’s wrestling
  3. Men’s soccer
  4. Women’s soccer
  5. Men’s ice hockey

So while both men’s and women’s soccer, at least at the college level, carry a relatively high risk of injury, they do not have the same risk level as other sports like wrestling and football. That said, soccer players should still take all the necessary precautions to ensure their safety on and off the field.

Acute vs. chronic soccer injuries

As with most contact sports, injuries in soccer can be divided into two main categories: acute injuries and chronic injuries. Acute injuries occur suddenly and are often the result of a fall, collision, or misstep. For example, broken legs in soccer, while rare, would be considered acute injuries, as would ACL tears and ankle sprains.

Chronic injuries, on the other hand, develop over time and are often the result of overuse. Injuries like Achilles tendonitis, shin splints, and stress fractures can occur after prolonged activity over the course of a soccer season or career. IT (iliotibial) band syndrome and patellar tendonitis are other examples of chronic soccer injuries. Because chronic injuries are not immediately noticeable, they can be difficult to detect right away.

What is the most common injury for soccer players? 

Looking at soccer injury statistics, we turn to a 2023 report from Truveta, a data research center that analyzed the electronic health records of nearly 23,000 people who sustained a soccer-related injury. The report identified the following as the most common soccer injuries (categorized by body location):

  • Lower extremity (legs, knees, feet, and ankles): ~37%
  • Upper extremity (shoulder, arms, elbows, wrists, and hands): ~23%
  • Face and head: ~15%
  • Concussion or traumatic brain injury (TBI): ~7%
  • All other areas (neck, back, chest, abdomen, and groin): ~12%

Even though injury can befall any soccer player anytime they step foot on the pitch, it’s important to note that the type, severity, and frequency of soccer-related injuries can vary greatly depending on the relative age, athleticism, and skill of the players involved.

Read More: How to Tell if Your Foot Is Fractured or Sprained

For example, the Truveta report identified that lower extremity injuries in the 15-19 age group (~40%) were higher than the surveyed population (~37%) and that concussions and TBIs were the most common among the 14-18 age group (~12%) than in any other age demographic.

What are the most common leg injuries in soccer?

As lower extremity or leg injuries occur the most frequently in soccer, it’s important to understand the type of leg injury, its accompanying symptoms, and average recovery time. While some injuries may not be easily diagnosed in the moment, this information is extremely helpful in determining whether the injury requires professional medical assistance or a visit to the emergency room.

Injury TypeCauseSymptoms
Achilles tendonitisRepetitive or intense strain of the Achilles tendon– Pain in the heel while walking or running
– Painful touch of Achilles tendon
– Swelling or heat along the Achilles tendon
– Difficulty standing on one toe
Achilles tendon rupturesPartial or complete tearing of the Achilles tendon– The feeling of having been kicked in the calf
– Possible severe pain and swelling near the heel
– Inability to bend the foot downward
– Inability to stand on toes
– A popping or snapping sound at the time of the injury
ACL tearsPartial or complete tearing of the knee’s anterior cruciate ligament– Pain on the outside or back of the knee
– Knee swelling within the first few hours
– Loss of range of motion
– Difficulty walking
Ankle sprainsPartial tearing of the ligaments supporting the ankle– Swelling and bruising around the ankle
– Loss of movement or strength
– Pain, heat, or tingling in the affected area
Broken feetFracture of one or more bones in the foot or ankle– Extreme tenderness
– Noticeable change in foot shape
– Difficulty supporting body weight
Hamstring strainsA partial tear of one or more of the hamstring muscles– Sudden or sharp pain down the back of the leg
– A snapping or popping feeling
– Tenderness and possible bruising
Meniscus tearsRupture of the protective cartilage inside the knee joint– Pain on the inside, outside, or back of the knee
– Knee swelling
– Catching or locking of the knee joint
– Limited range of motion
Plantar fasciitisInflammation of the connective tissue along the bottom of the foot– Sharp pain at the bottom of the foot
– Most noticeable first thing in the morning, or after prolonged periods of standing
Shin splintsRepetitive stress to both the shin bone and its surrounding connective tissue– Dull pain down the front of the leg
– Painful touch to the shin
– Pain that worsens with activity, and improves with rest
Stress fracturesSmall cracks in the foot or leg bones resulting from chronic overuse– Pain that worsens during and after exercise that does NOT improve with rest
– Tenderness or swelling near the bone
Turf toeA sprain of the main joint connecting the big toe to the rest of the foot– Pain, swelling, or bruising near the front of the foot
– Inability to bend the big toe
– Inability to put weight on the big toe

What is the most common head injury in soccer?

Although head injuries in soccer are relatively rare, they do still happen. Per the report, one of the most common head injuries in soccer is a concussion or other TBI. A concussion occurs when someone experiences a direct blow to the head, and is often accompanied by an array of temporary symptoms, including memory loss, confusion, nausea, vomiting, and excessive fatigue.

What will the ER do for a concussion? Most ER concussion protocols include a brief examination, and an X-ray and CT scan to determine its severity.

How to prevent soccer injuries

When considering the most common soccer injuries and how to prevent them, preparation is key. And while the risk of getting injured in a contact sport like soccer is never zero, the following advice can help players avoid injury:

  • Warm up and stretch. Soccer is an endurance sport, with the average soccer player running upwards of five miles in a single match. Failure to properly warm up the body or stretch the hamstrings can increase the likelihood of muscle strain or tear. If you find that you’re pulling muscles easily in the course of play, lack of stretching may be why.
  • Hydrate. Lack of hydration, while not leading directly to a break, strain, or tear, can have a number of indirect consequences that can lead to injury. Poor hydration can slow the reaction speed necessary to avoid collision or can cause the muscles to overtax themselves prematurely.
  • Know your limits. As explained above, one of the leading causes of injuries in soccer is overuse. Chronic injuries like stress fractures and tendonitis result from continued periods of intense activity without proper rest and recuperation. Players, parents, and coaches should set clear boundaries for the athlete to prevent such injuries from materializing.

In short, preparation, hydration, and rest should factor heavily into any soccer injury prevention plan.

Soccer injuries and treatment

Unfortunately, and as the statistics show, soccer injuries are not always 100% preventable. In many cases, soccer-related injuries can be treated with simple anti-inflammatory medication like aspirin or ibuprofen. Recovery can also be aided by remembering the acronym RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation):

  • Rest. After the injury takes place, try to cease or limit activity for the next two days. This will help determine the severity of the injury.
  • Ice. Ice is one of the most effective means of reducing inflammation, pain, and swelling. Icing sessions should last no more than 15 to 20 minutes at a time and can be done every few hours.
  • Compression. If the injured area continues to swell, light compression with an ACE bandage or sleeve can alleviate the swelling and accompanying pain. Just make sure it’s not too tight, as inhibiting blood flow can actually slow the healing process.
  • Elevation. For lower extremity injuries in particular, elevating the injured area to heart level can reduce painful throbbing and inflammation.

The RICE method is appropriate for most mild injuries that feature swelling and pain; however, for more serious injuries, fractures, or tears, you’ll be better served by a visit to the emergency room.

Prevent and treat common soccer injuries with Complete Care

As you can see, the most common soccer injuries span a wide variety of categories — from acute to chronic, from mild to severe, and from head to toe. Understanding the root causes of these injuries, their symptoms, and the available treatment options can greatly reduce their long-term impact, and help you get back on your feet and ready to score that next goal!

At Complete Care, our freestanding emergency rooms are professionally staffed and equipped with state-of-the-art imaging tools. Our low wait times ensure that patients won’t have to deal with pain for an extended period; we’ll get you in, out, and back on the pitch as soon as possible.

We have multiple locations in Texas (Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas/Fort Worth, East Texas, Lubbock, and San Antonio) and in Colorado Springs that are open 24/7 with shorter wait times.

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