SPORTS MEDICINE
September 28, 2016

Kids' Soccer Injuries Soar

The number of visits to the ER each year among young soccer players rose by 78%. Injuries were even more common for those over 12.

The growing popularity of soccer means that more kids are playing the sport and getting the exercise they need. It's also causing a dramatic rise in injuries of young soccer players over the last 25 years, according to a new study in the journal, Pediatrics.

“The sport of soccer has changed dramatically in the last 25 years,” said one of the study authors, Huiyun Xiang. “We're seeing athletes play year-round now thanks to club, travel and rec leagues, and the intensity of play is higher than it ever has been. These factors combine to lead to more risk of injury.”

The most striking increase was in concussions. While they are only about 7% of the overall injuries, their rate rose nearly 1600%, with most of the increase occurring after 2008.

The study looked at injuries treated in emergency departments and found the yearly number of these injuries among 7- to 17-year-old soccer players rose by 111% between 1990 and 2014.

Since these injuries were treated in emergency departments, they are likely to reflect the more serious injuries suffered by young soccer players. And the fact that the injury rate is also going up means this isn't just being caused by more youngsters playing soccer: players are more likely to have an injury treated and presumably more likely to get injured.

Nearly three-quarters of the injuries occurred in older players, those 12-17 years old, and their rate of injury was over three times higher than that of younger soccer players. This is likely due to their more aggressive style of play and the higher-energy impacts that occur with older and heavier players, the researchers believe.

The three most common types of injuries were sprains and strains (35%), fractures (23%) and soft tissue injuries (22%) such as torn ligaments or tendons.

The most striking increase was in concussions. While they are only about 7% of the overall injuries, their rate rose nearly 1600%, with most of the increase occurring after 2008.

At least some of that increase is most likely because concussions are now being taken more seriously than they were in the past, the authors say, though the study can't prove this or estimate how much of the increase might be due to increased reporting. Similar increases in concussions have been observed in other youth sports, notably football.

In this study, players with concussions were more than twice as likely to be admitted to the hospital as players with other injuries were, highlighting their seriousness. The authors, researchers at Ohio's Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, stress that concussions are especially dangerous for youngsters: “Young athletes recover more slowly from concussions and repeat concussions than their college counterparts. They are at risk for second-impact syndrome if they return to play prematurely, and repetitive concussions over years may put them at risk for other neurobehavioral and cognitive changes, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy.”

The authors also offer some tips for players, parents and coaches to help prevent concussions and other injuries:

  • Participate in a pre-season conditioning program that focuses on building core muscles, strengthening neck muscles, and working on hip and thigh strength.
  • Warm up before you play.
  • Always wear the recommended protective gear (shin guards, mouth guards).
  • Follow and enforce the rules. Many injuries occur during illegal play or when coaches or referees don't enforce the rules.
  • Learn about concussions. Know the symptoms of concussions and how to spot them. Encourage players to report any hits to the head even if they happen in practice. Make sure to follow concussion management and return-to-play policies.
  • Limit heading for younger players. Only allow heading once children reach 11 years of age and introduce it slowly by limiting the amount of heading in practice for children 11-13 years of age.
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