Soccer is a great way to build endurance, improve speed, and stay fit, all while enjoying being a part of a team. However, soccer does involve quick start-and-stop motions and physical contact, which can lead to injury. Risk of injury is no reason not to play soccer, though. Soccer players just need to be aware of the risks and know what steps they can take to play as safely as possible.

1. Sprains

Sprains are common soccer injuries. They often happen to the ankle or knee. The pivoting and lateral movements of soccer contribute to these injuries.

To avoid unnecessary risk, always check the condition of the field before you play. Do not play on fields that are uneven or have holes or rocks on them. Also, proper footwear and appropriate strength and balance training are the key to prevention.

2. Strains

Muscle strains can be caused by:

  • Pulling a muscle too far in a direction it does not want to go
  • Contracting a muscle hard against resistance
  • Contracting a muscle hard when the muscle is not ready

The most common muscle strains in soccer occur with groin muscles, hamstrings, and quadriceps. A muscle strain won't send you to the emergency room, but it can be painful and can keep you off the field for a few days or weeks. Strains occur frequently in soccer due to constant stop and go movement, or taking a longer stride than muscles can handle.

Good flexibility and strength can lower your chances of muscle strain. Start with a warm up, then stretch the areas that are most likely to suffer a strain. Make sure that you are also doing strengthening exercises before the season begins.

Wearing well-fitted cleats with appropriate spikes (longer spikes in softer turf and shorter spikes on dry, hard turf) may also help prevent strains.

3. Fractures

The majority of soccer-related fractures are also in the lower extremities . Fractures often occur as a result of contact, so wearing protective gear like shin guards is important.

4. Head Injury

Closed-head injury is most often the result of a collision between players or from not heading the ball properly.

Correct heading involves use of the forehead to contact the ball, the neck muscles to restrict head motion, and the leg muscles to to propel the body from the waist.

You may want to consider strengthening your neck muscles to prepare them for heading. You can use your hand to provide resistance against your head. Then, use your neck muscles to turn your head right, left, forward, and backward. Wear a fitted mouth guard to protect your mouth and teeth. You may also want to consider protective eyewear.

General Prevention Tips

As with any sport, a good warm-up is important to an injury-free soccer experience.

  • Cardio: Start with a few laps to get your heart rate up.
  • Stretching: Focus particularly on the lower body and hips; do not forget to stretch your neck gently.
  • Passing: Begin with short-distance passing, then move gradually into longer distance drives.
  • Shooting: Work up from lighter, shorter shots on net to harder shots.
  • Sprinting: Include a few short distance sprints.

Other things to consider:

  • Wear cleats and shin guards that fit.
  • Take precautions when playing in hot and humid weather.
  • Stay hydrated and follow a nutritious diet.
  • Avoid overuse injuries. Consider taking at least one season off each year.
  • Do not play when you are tired.
  • Pay attention to your body. If you feel pain or discomfort, then limit your training time and intensity.
  • Talk to your trainer or sports medicine doctor to learn more about other injuries and prevention tips.