Tips for Preventing Youth Foot & Ankle Soccer Injuries
Already the most popular sport worldwide, soccer is continuing to gain popularity, especially among youth. And, it’s a very popular sport here in Arizona, where you can play outdoors most months of the year. However, unfortunately, the increase in its popularity has led to an increase in soccer-related sports injuries. The largest contributing factor of these injuries is player on player contact, which most often results in lower extremity injuries, especially those of the feet and ankles. The most common of these injuries include ankle sprains, shin splints and stress fractures.
However, there are certain precautions you can take to help reduce your child’s risk of developing these foot and ankle injuries. Below, Dr. Jeffrey McAlister, FACFAS, provides useful tips for preventing these injuries both before and during soccer season.
Preventing Foot & Ankle Injuries Before the Season
Get your child in good physical condition:
Several weeks before soccer season starts, have your child begin preparing their body for more intense physical activity. This is especially important if they haven’t been as active leading up the season. Cardio exercises such as biking, jump roping and running are also a good idea. Have them begin to stretch regularly to improve the strength and flexibility in their legs and feet. This will make them more equipped for running, jumping, and kicking with stride.
Purchase the right gear:
Provide your child with the right safety gear and cleats. Properly fitting cleats are especially important. They should fit comfortably from the very moment your child puts them on – no ‘break-in’ periods allowed. Although having your child use hand-me-down cleats or reuse their same cleats from another sport may save money, this should be avoided. Doing so, may cause painful pressure points and increase their risks of sustaining foot injuries. Their cleats should be purchased only for their use and be soccer-specific cleats.
Have your child get a pre-season physical:
Pre-season physicals are often required and may help identify any injuries or conditions your child may be predisposed to. This is especially useful as doctors may be able to recommend specific ways to prevent these injuries.
Preventing Foot & Ankle Injuries During the Season
Assess the quality of the playing conditions:
Before allowing your child to play, be sure to assess the quality of the field, weather and equipment they will be using. Uneven terrain, poor quality grass or turf and wet fields increase the risks of the slips, falls and twists that cause foot and ankle injuries. If the conditions aren’t suitable for children to play, don’t allow them to play – the risks of injury simply aren’t worth it.
Have your child warm up and cool down:
Having your child stretch their feet and ankles before and after playing is imperative in preventing foot and ankle injuries. Good warm-ups will get their tendons, muscles and ligaments working efficiently. Light cardio, like a quick five-minute jog, is not only a great way for them to warm up before playing, but is also a great way for them to cool down and decrease their heart rate slowly – an important step in cooling down.
Keep them hydrated:
Becoming dehydrated, especially in Arizona, not only affects athletic performance but is also very dangerous. Poor muscle balance, control and technique can lead to stumbles and tumbles, which often result in foot and ankle injuries. Children should drink at least 16 ounces of water a few hours before playing and drink 8 ounces every 20 minutes while playing.
Prevent your child from overtraining:
Playing soccer all day, every day year-round is a recipe for disaster. Doing so often results in overuse injuries, especially those of the ankle and foot, such as ankle splints, plantar fasciitis, tendinitis, stress fractures, shin splints and many more. Overtraining can also cause kids to burn out mentally and emotionally, not just physically. To prevent this, have your child take one season off per year.
If your child may be suffering from a foot or ankle soccer-related injury, contact Dr. McAlister’s office to schedule an appointment at (602) 955-5700. Dr. McAlister is a fellowship-trained foot and ankle surgeon and a previous Top Doc nominee for Phoenix magazine.