The most common injury in youth soccer is caused by overuse. Injuries are more common for high school soccer players than they are for kids 11 years old and younger. This can include tendonitis, shin splints, and stress fractures that will simply heal with the proper amount of rest. Of course recently, the most talked about safety issue lately mentioned in the news is head injury from concussion.
With soccer injuries, the most common body parts injured with children is wrist/finger/hand at 20.3%, ankles at 18.2%, and knee with 11.4%. The most common diagnoses for soccer-related injuries for kids were sprain/strain at 35.9%, bruises/abrasion at 24.1%, and fractures at 23.2% of all diagnoses.
This data comes from a study of 1.6 million pediatric soccer injuries reported on pubmed.gov. A statistical breakdown of soccer injuries in kids ages 2-18 was done. **Note that these medically diagnosed injuries don't include all the knee scrapes that likely go unreported by soccer moms and dads everywhere.
Injuries to young hands, wrists, and finger from soccer are likely the least reported and are likely the most common body part that is injured in youth soccer. Injury to these areas can easily occur from a fast moving soccer ball as well as from falling down and bracing your fall to the ground.
Although any injury can happen in a serious way, hand area injuries most likely to heal completely with no long term effects at all. The most common fracture in the wrist area is the buckle fracture that usually accompanies a fall.
Most injuries in soccer occur with some aspect of the legs, whether it's up high with quadriceps, in the middle with the knee or calves, or down low, with the shins, ankles, or feet.
Ankle sprains happen with a large variety in how bad the injury is. Sprains can result in significant pain and swelling around the ankle and spread well into the foot as well. Most of the swell in usually occurs on the outside of the ankle rather than on the inside.
Young soccer players can also suffer from ankle fractures. The ankles of 10-15 year olds are most vulnerable to fractures because of the closing growth plates in the ankles. Many of these ankle fractures can be treated without needing an operation. Often a cast or a restrictive boot can work to heal the injury if no displacement has occurred.
Of course, bruises, scrapes and bumps of the ankle area are also common due to miss-kicks and ball misses.
Soccer involves a large amount of running, changing directions, pivoting, twisting, and sudden stopping. That makes it a great workout for kids, but it comes along with a high demand on the lower legs. The knees and the calves are at risk, for injury from both extreme stress as well as collisions.
ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) tears are the most feared in athletes, both young and old, because of the challenges that come along with repair and rehabilitation. The risk of ACL tears is between 4 and 8 times greater is female soccer players than males. These tears typically don't heal without surgery to stabilize the knee at return to basic functionality.
More common are the sprains and strains of both muscles and ligaments in these areas. many variables figure in to the risk of youth soccer injuries, including the weather, the specific conditions of the soccer field, as well as the equipment like protective gear, the goals and the pressure of the ball.
Even though it's gotten the most publicity, head injury from actually heading the soccer ball is much less likely the cause of head injuries from soccer. Injury is actually more frequently caused when 2 soccer players collide in some manner.
Despite the recent debates on whether the heading of the soccer ball should be banned in the younger age groups, most soccer-related head injuries do not result in a concussion.
Interestingly, male soccer players were more than twice as likely to sustain a head injury playing soccer as female soccer players.
Statistics on soccer head injuries from the British Journal of Sports Medicine on soccer injuries involving the head:
The youngest soccer players rarely get seriously injured, but it can happen. In 12 years of running a soccer program for kids ages 2-6, with hundreds of kids enrolled every Fall, Winter, Springs, and Summer season, I fortunately never had any reported serious injuries.
According to the PubMed study, Children 2 to 4 years old sustained a higher proportion (41%) of face and head/neck injuries than the older kids did (15.5%; relative risk).
Why? It's my guess that the young players have not yet developed that automatic reaction to soften their fall and protect their heads/necks/faces by using their hands and arms. I've notice this in my 14 month old grandson.
Although kids can get hurt playing soccer, it's not the most dangerous sport by any means. Statistical research by the CDC (Center for Disease Control) shows soccer came in 4th place for visits to emergency departments in the USA over a 7 year time span.
It's also interesting to note that in the 5 year old to 9 year old age group segment soccer did not even make the top 5 list for serious injuries. Despite the huge participation levels of kids playing soccer, only 3.1% of the visits to emergency departments were due to youth soccer, compared with 7.1% in the entire 5-24 age group, as shown in the bar graph above.
That means soccer risks are quite a bit less at the youngest of ages.
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