Unfortunately, injuries are a massive part of soccer. Whether they come from a careless warm up or sheer unluckiness, there’s always a chance of injury in a massively physically demanding sport. However, not taking the right measures in preventing and nursing your injuries can prolong your hiatus from soccer, or worse, lead to reinjury.
2. Prevention and Preparation
The biggest part of dealing with injuries, in most sports, is to take the right steps in preventing it from happening in the first place. This includes many steps, but it’s mainly about building/strengthening muscle and staying fit. Most of the best players in the world, for example, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi stay at the top because they rarely get injured, thus allowing them to be consistent season after season.
While younger players don’t need to step in the gym just yet, there are definitely places where strengthening muscles helps immensely. Exercises such as sit ups and planks help develop the core, which is essential to keeping your balance and jousting with opponents. Performing agility drills as well helps the body remain quick. As you play soccer at a higher and higher level, your mind starts thinking and adapting more, and your reaction time becomes quicker as well. In order to keep up with a higher tempo, the body needs to be able to move faster. Agility helps with just that.
As much as drills help, the biggest way to stay healthy on the field is to stay fit. Ensuring this means running outside of practice and consistently putting in 100% effort in team practice. It’s much easier to stay fit than to get back into shape. Obviously, if you have a long term injury that’s different, but every player should make sure they are fully healthy before stepping onto the field.
While prevention and preparation addresses preventing injuries for the long term, preservation deals with what soccer players do right before, during, and right after playing soccer and/or working out. Normally, right before and right after exercise tend to be the most important times when it comes to preserving your body. Here are a list of basic steps you should be taking all the time:
Warm up and Cool down: Take warm ups seriously. They really do “warm up” your body and prepare it for exercise. As for cooling down, just a light jog will do. This helps alleviate some of the soreness you feel post-soccer. As well, it slows down your heart rate gradually. Stopping exercise too early can lead to dizziness and in serious cases, fainting. Your cool down should be around 2 to 5 minutes long.
Stay Hydrated: Drink even when you aren’t thirsty (the US National Academies of Sciences determined that men should be drinking 3.7 liters of water per day and women should be drinking 2.7 liters per day.) Drinking water during soccer mainly keeps the mouth dry. Once you’re thirsty, it’s too late.
Get Sleep: Without enough sleep, your mind and body don’t function correctly. Best case scenario, you play extremely poorly. Worst case scenario, you suffer a long term injury.
Don’t Play Injured: Trust me, I know this one. There’s already a high chance of reinjury right after recovering from one, so don’t increase those chances by playing through an injury. You’ll always want to play if you feel like you can play, but it’s important to look at the bigger picture when it comes to taking care of your body.
Overuse: Do not play everyday, or at least do not go 100% every single day; this leads to overuse injuries such as shin splints, stress fractures, and tendinitis in several areas of your body. Take some off days and use them to recover (ice baths, cold showers, stretching, going for a walk). Even if you manage to elude injuries in your quest to grind out soccer every single day, your body will slowly fatigue over time, and your practices won’t be as effective as if you just took a day off.
Immediate Alleviation: RICE. Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevate. If you feel pain anywhere in your ankle or knee, make sure to rest and ice the injured section immediately. Prop your leg out on a pillow or two to elevate the leg. You should be alternating between icing and compressing (15 minutes icing, 15 minutes compressing) for about an hour, 3 hours a day.
4. Long Term
Long term injuries suck. There’s no other way to put it. It’s imperative to be patient. Coming back too soon could have devastating effects. Go see an athletic trainer. For injuries that will keep you out months, make sure you get MRIs done and attend physical therapy. You can also use the time to strengthen other parts of your body. All in all, injuries are a huge part of the sport we all know and love, and you can only hope to prevent them by preparing and preserving your body to the best of your ability.