By: Jean Johnson for Knee1
On the opening day of the World Cup, Google’s celebratory logo showcased it well. The first ‘o’ in the logo was a black and white soccer ball whooshing in from a youngster’s head. The athlete appeared to be a good foot off the ground, captured in action reminiscent of a young billy goat.
|Tips to get in and stay in the game|
Take the time to warm up.
Stretch before, during and after games and practice.
Check all equipment before and after games and practice.
Assess any field trouble spots prior to the game.
If you experience pain while playing, stop and get looked at. Playing through pain can lead to injury.
Take frequent water breaks before you are thirsty.
Cooling down is as important as warming up.
He was of slight build and had on a loose white jersey and what looked more like knee socks than shin guards on his legs. We at Knee1, of course, are hoping there were shin guards since even a brief look around the soccer scene during the all the excitement associated with the World Cup brings home the message that as much as folks love their soccer, the sport can do a real number on the body.
The World Cup (for the Americans in the crowd who tend to rank soccer lower on the interest scale than ice skating and hence might be just a wee bit out of the loop) is an international championship series held every four years. At the moment the global community’s attention is focused on Germany where the 2006 games are taking place. Although the sport is not as big in the United States, the Americans have a team there – one that is healthy and ready to go without any of the injuries plaguing its Czech and Italian rivals. (Editor’s note – the U.S. team lost to the Czechs in their opening round match.)
Unfortunately, injuries and soccer go pretty much hand in hand given the frequent collisions. If it’s not someone kicking your leg to smithereens, it’s seeing stars after delivering a poorly placed header (called heading the ball), or finding your body more than a little crumpled from a run in with a goal post that wasn’t sufficiently padded.
Soccer is the most popular sport in the world and attracts an estimated 400 million players from close to 200 countries, according to the International Federation of Football Association. (Soccer is termed football by most nations except the U.S.)
According to Australian researchers A.C. McGrath and J. Ozanne-Smith, “a direct blow from a soccer ball or a stray kick may result in fractures, bruising or even death.” That said, the British Columbia Injury Research and Prevention Unit (BCIRPU) in Canada counters that “fatalities from soccer-related injuries are associated almost exclusively with traumatic contact with goalposts.”
To hedge your bets for a safe experience, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) suggests the following. “Always take time to warm up and stretch. Warm up with jumping jacks, stationary cycling or running or walking in place for three to five minutes. Then slowly and gently stretch, holding each stretch for 30 seconds.”
| The BCIRPU offers the following tips on soccer and safety:|
US National Electronic Injury Surveillance System data show that 85 percent of injuries occur in athletes under age 23 and 45 percent to those under age 15.
In aged-matched players, those with poor muscular strength are shown to have higher rates of injury.
Players who have had a previous injury as well as inadequate rehabilitation are at greater risk for a future injury.
Soccer is the leading cause of facial and dental injuries in sports.
During one competition in hot humid weather, 18 of 4,000 collapsed with heat exhaustion. “Remember; always stay HYDRATED by drinking lots of water!”
The AAOS also says to be mindful of the equipment and the playing environment. Shoes with molded cleats or ribbed shoes are preferred unless the field is wet and has high grass, in which case screw-in cleats work better. Also, fields need to be maintained so that the grass grows evenly without bare patches, any holes are filled in and repaired, and debris that could trip players is removed. More, goal posts need careful padding, and synthetic balls – rather than leather ones that can become water-logged and heavy – are preferred in damp conditions.
Lower Leg Injuries
“The nature of the game of soccer, in which players make sharp turns off a planted foot, and have intense contact with the ball and other players, along with the essential underlying components of running and kicking, indicate the vulnerability of the lower extremities,” write McGrath and Ozanne-Smith.
Along with warming up and correct footwear, shin guards and wobble board training are keys to injury prevention in soccer since balance and strong ankles provide the foundation on which the quick movements of the leg and torso depend.
Along with baseball players and those in a host of other sports, soccer players tend to train long and hard. Thus attention to preventing overuse injuries is critical. In particular, educating players about risks and severity of potential injuries is useful, especially when thoughtful coaches take the lead. Most players listen when adults they respect observe that care needs to be taken at younger ages if players want a chance to succeed at the elite level.
Players who are just starting out and learning to develop their prowess need to be especially wary of trying to compensate by trying extra hard. As the BCIRPU points out, “the incidence of severe injuries has been found to be higher among low-skill groups than high-skill groups.”
Google got it right when it showed a boy connecting with a soccer ball with his head. This flashy, sensational part of soccer does indeed capture much attention and can bring the fans to their feet if executed successfully at that all-important moment.
The problem is, as McGrath and Ozanne-Smith note, that even though “the vast majority of soccer injuries occur to the lower extremities… injuries to the head and neck have greater potential to be catastrophic.”
So this is where using the right light-weight ball comes in. Choose plastic coatings and synthetic materials. Anything to keep the balls from taking moisture and hence, getting too heavy.
Proper training for players is key as well. Learning to keep your eye on the ball, holding your head and neck rigid, doing exercises to strengthen the neck – all of these can help keep players heading the soccer ball safe.
Like any sport, facial injuries can result from play, although McGrath and Ozanne-Smith observe that “contact sports such as soccer have been shown to have a relatively higher incidence.”
To try and control these injuries, the researchers suggest that all players wear mouth guards, and that those involved in the sport investigate the advantages and disadvantages of developing a light weight soccer helmet.