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5 Common Injuries for Professional Soccer Players
If you think soccer is a no-contact sport, you should tune into a professional match. Elbows to noses, knees in the gut, trampled ankles, and concussions can all be incurred on the field.
Some injuries come up more commonly than others, though. Here are the 5 most common soccer injuries sustained by the pros.
Pulled Calf Muscles
The infamous and painful “Charley Horse” is something that most people have felt at some point in their lives. Maybe you went for a jog on a cold morning and didn’t warm up. Or you played too long in a football or soccer game, and you overworked your muscles.
One of the most common soccer injuries, pulled calf muscles can bring a player to the ground. There are a number of reasons players can suffer from instantly debilitating calf muscle strains.
These kinds of muscle pulls, or strains, can occur when the muscle is pushed beyond its normal range of motion and also when too much of a load is put onto the muscle. A correlation has also been found between dehydration and muscle strains.
When Barcelona soccer superstar Lionel Messi suffered a calf pull, he had to cancel his plans to travel with his team to the US to play. Cramping in this muscle group impacted his season trajectory and impacted his team, which had to play without their captain and most famous player.
The ankle is arguably the most important body part to a professional soccer player. The ankle controls directional running, kicking, faking, sliding, tackling, and stability.
Ankle injuries can include sprained ankles (which sound like no big deal but which can keep a pro benched), broken bones, bone bruises, and torn ligaments. These injuries sometimes require surgery to allow the ankle to recover the full range of motion.
The overuse of the ankle, excessive training, and high-impact collisions that occur in soccer all affect foot health. Ankle fractures, metatarsal fractures, and damaged ligaments are just a few of the risks of the sport.
Brazilian soccer hero Neymar ruptured ankle ligaments in a warm-up scrimmage. Called “a severe sprain,” this injury kept the player from participating in the 2019 Copa America. He was forced to keep off the ankle for a month to let it heal.
Fortunately, his team won the tournament. If they hadn’t, Neymar may have had to add guilt to his injury.
Torn/Damaged Achilles Tendon
Achilles was one of the mightiest of Greek warriors in ancient times. The story goes that as a baby, he was dipped into a magic broth that would render him immune to injury.
Unfortunately, the area just above the heel is where the witch held him when she was submerging him. Thus, that small tendon was his one physical vulnerability.
Like Achilles, modern-day warriors can be brought down by injury in this small, seemingly insignificant portion of the physique.
Achilles tendonitis is the inflammation of that tendon that connects the heel to the calf muscle. It can be caused by intense strain on the tendon or overuse. The repetitive, abrupt movements in soccer make this a common issue in both professional and amateur leagues.
Stretching can help prevent this painful issue, as can proper gear fit.
This tendon can also rupture or tear. The area where muscles connect to tendons are more fragile than other areas of the tendon-muscle team. Thus, these areas are major points of vulnerability for athletes.
Athletes will hear or feel a “pop” or even a snapping noise if this tendon ruptures. They won’t be able to run. The area will swell.
As soon as the tendon is torn, it must be iced, rested, and the leg elevated. Surgery will often be required, so an immediate hospital visit is strongly encouraged.
In a game with AC Milan, David Beckham incurred a notorious tear in his Achilles tendon. That one moment not only prevented him playing for his home country of England in the World Cup but also kept him on the bench for the entire MLS season.
Beckham immediately flew to Finland for surgery. After surgery, he was required to be in a cast for a month and then to rehab the tendon for another five months.
There’s a ligament in the middle of the knee called the anterior cruciate ligament, better known as the ACL. One of the most feared injuries on the soccer field is a torn ACL.
Soccer is a game of quick pivoting action. It is this sudden turning movement that stresses the knee joints. The condition of the field and the weather can also contribute to this injury. Wet fields, uneven surfaces, and even artificial turf all affect knee safety.
Ruud Van Nistelrooy
Manchester United’s Ruud Van Nistelrooy was eager to come to England and play for the famous team in Manchester up in the north of England, between Leeds and Liverpool. However, an ACL injury postponed his eager start with the team.
The injury took one year for this Netherlands striker to heal. The one-year delay due to the ACL issue cost Van Nistelrooy more than $20 million in lost salary.
Meniscus injuries are another knee-area threat. The meniscus in the knee is made of cartilage and acts as a shock absorber. Because it circulates a very small amount of blood, it takes a long time to repair.
Twisting the knee can damage the meniscus. There will be pain and instability. Rest, ice, elevation, and compression are all recommended. Try to get to a doctor before the swelling becomes so extreme that there is difficulty in properly assessing the damage.
The Astroturf Problem
Playing on synthetic grass can increase the likelihood of a meniscus tear. On real grass, when a knee turns, the grass and the earth can shift under the shoe, allowing for liberal leg movement. On static “grass” that can’t become uprooted during a swift turn or shift in direction, the surface will offer no “give” to the shoe, and the foot will stay in one place while the knee continues to twist.
This is one reason that professional athletes, such as soccer and American football players, resist the use of Astroturf and other synthetic grasses. They believe that playing on these unforgiving surfaces shortens their playing careers and increases expensive and painful injury occurrences.
This French professional soccer player who was a winger for the LA Galaxy tore his meniscus in early 2019 and was out of the game for months afterward. He has since moved to China to play with Qingdao Huanghai F.C.
Most people are surprised by how often concussions are incurred on the soccer field. Scientific studies in the United States found that soccer is the sport most likely to give someone a concussion, next to American football.
A concussion is a blow to the head that creates brain trauma. Elbows to the head, collisions during headers, and even knees to the head create dangerous soccer scenarios that invite head injury.
Any change in behavior necessitates an immediate trip to a medical professional.
Cindy Parlow Cone
Female soccer Olympian Cindy Parlow Cone experienced multiple concussions in her time on the US national team. Once, she reports, she went into the air for a header, knocked into her own teammate, and doesn’t remember coming back down. That momentary loss of memory and her tingly fingers helped the doctors diagnose a concussion.
Many sports put the athlete at a risk of concussion, but soccer is right up near the top of the list. Cone ended her international sports career and gave up her elite status as an Olympian because each new concussion she received filled her with fear.
A Final Word
Every sport comes with a degree of risk. If these pursuits were easy or utterly safe, many more would-be athletes would participate. The risk is part of the challenge—and even the appeal—of the sport itself.
Although professional athletes often have medical professionals on speed dial and have teams of doctors and physical therapists in place, they can be subject to the same injuries as a 5-year-old on his first soccer team.
But with the professionals, these sprained ankles and torn ligaments can cost millions per occurrence in lost salary and medical bills. Furthermore, team owners are often unwilling to re-hire a player who is considered “accident prone.”
Every practice, every match, every drill poses a threat to the professional player. Every moment on the field must be a perfect calculation of speed, impact, and agility for the player. Otherwise, one of the injuries listed in this article lies waiting to happen.
Players who are 100% committed to creating longevity in the sport, such as Cristiano Ronaldo, do everything possible to create a body and a lifestyle that staves off these injuries.