Soccer is the most widely played sport in the world. As of 2015, in the United States alone, there were an estimated 15 million soccer players ranging from youths to professionals. Even though soccer is considered to be a “non-contact” sport, plenty of injuries can happen and can really take away from your enjoyment of the sport.
Most soccer injuries occur in the legs either due to overuse or direct impact with another player. That being said, upper body injuries and even concussions can happen in soccer for the same reasons. Soccer players often end up injured either because they are new to the game and are trying to do too much in too short of a time or they have good conditioning and are playing in tournament situations where they just did not have enough recovery time in between games.
Muscle strains are very common in soccer because of the fast pace, long strides while running, and the large amount of fast acceleration and deceleration that happens in the course of a game. But other soft tissue and joint problems can affect soccer players, too, so let’s look at the most common ones and how to deal with them. Of course, the most important step in knowing what is causing your pain or injuries, and therefore the best way to deal with them, is having a good diagnosis from an examination performed by a competent health care provider, so make sure you do not skip this crucial step!
Anterior (front) knee pain is a common problem that will affect most soccer players at some point. Knee pain often comes from imbalanced muscle strength between your quadriceps and hamstrings muscles (the muscles on the front and back of your thigh, respectively). This tends to pull your kneecap harder against the other bones of your knee joint and creates inflammation and pain at the front of your knee. A home strategy for dealing with this problem is to try foam rolling with deep (but not painful!), slow movements over the entire front of your thigh from hip to knee. When you find particularly restricted-feeling or tender areas, spend a little more time there, but again, more is not better, so you should not feel pain when doing this. Other signs of overdoing foam rolling are changes in your breathing or clenching your jaw. Kinesiology tape can be super helpful for knee pain, too, and it is easy to tape your own knee once someone shows you the correct way to do it.
Achilles tendinitis is common for soccer players because the Achilles tendons absorb a lot of force from the ground with running, starting/stopping and jumping. Kinesiology tape is another great way to ease injuries in this area at the back of the ankle. Having plenty of ankle mobility as well as sliding and gliding in the Achilles tendons is important, too. Doing fairly high repetitions of heel raises (about 40, twice per day) on a step can help improve the flexibility of the Achilles tendons.
Plantar fasciitis is inflammation and pain in the plantar fascia, a wide band of connective tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot. This is a pretty painful and frustrating problem and a proper diagnosis is really important because a lot of other problems that feel similar to plantar fasciitis can affect the bottom of your feet, too. As with the other injuries, using kinesiology around your foot can be super helpful with this type of pain. Additionally, doing some self-myofascial release can help. Get a firm ball like a lacrosse ball (or one of RockTape’s RockBalls) and apply slow, firm (but not painful!) pressure on the bottoms of both feet for a few minutes per foot. Do this several times per day. This is like a foot massage and it will feel great!
If you play soccer for any length of time you will eventually end up with an ankle sprain. And, if you’re like most people, after you get one the next one seems to happen even more easily. This is because your ankle’s proprioception, or sense of position in space, is altered. Kinesiology tape can be used very effectively to help stabilize your ankle after a sprain and encourage clearing the inflammation out of the area to allow for faster healing. You should still elevate your foot, too. And, once you’re able to put full weight on it, do some proprioceptive exercises to help strengthen it against further injury. Start by standing on the sprained side for up to about 30 seconds. At first, this can be really tough because your ankle forgot where it is in space! Once this gets easy, add some challenge by standing on the sprained side while drawing all the letters of the alphabet with your other foot and leg. These movements will cause you to lose your balance a little and will force your healing ankle to work harder.
These are very basic methods for some of the most common types of soccer injuries, but there are ways to use kinesiology tape and home care to manage pulled muscles, shin splints and other injuries, too. Start with a good diagnosis of the problem and then you can most effectively tackle the problem and be back on the field before you know it!