This Month in Sports Rehabilitation: Getting Ready for Soccer Season (April 2013)
With spring approaching, soccer players of all ages look forward to a return to the grassy pitch. When preparing for soccer season, it's important for players and coaches alike to think about injury risk and level of preparation.
Don't Forget the Neck
With young players we often think about leg and core strength, but we shouldn't neglect neck strength. While the cumulative effect of heading is still under investigation, preliminary research shows that younger players are at more risk for heading injuries.
Strengthening of the neck and upper back may be a method of mitigating this increased risk.
Developing Both Legs
Players of all ages tend to favor their dominant legs. Over time that can result in different muscle function from leg to leg. Using both legs early in a player's career contributes to a more effective player and may reduce injury risk, as well. Younger players should play on both sides of the field and use both legs in drills and games.
Fitness Programs and Warm-ups
Older players should pay attention to overall fitness to avoid muscle strain injuries. Even if the winter was spent playing indoors, the smaller field and liberal substitution provide different demands than the larger pitch and regimented substitution patterns of outdoor play.
Balance training, hip and core strengthening, and specialized hamstring exercises help prevent soccer injuries for players of all ages. Think about integrating the following into your routine:
- Strength programs should incorporate core strengthening exercises such as planks, side planks, bridging, step backs, squats/lunges, and single leg balance and hamstring exercises. Balance training should be done with slight bend in the knee and hip, and focus on maintaining proper alignment at the shoulder, hip, knee and foot.
- Dynamic warm-ups should be multi-planar, with forwards, backwards, sideways and rotational movements. Examples include high knees (forwards and backward), skipping (forward, backward and sideways), side shuffles, and grapevine/carioca.
- Follow the dynamic warm-up with progressive running (forward and back) and side shuffles for speed, working toward a 75 percent sprinting/cutting regimen in multiple directions prior to play. Challenge yourself by having a partner throw a ball that you volley back to them, or by closing your eyes.
- Slow, static (non-moving) stretching is not an effective warm-up.
If you do have pain or a current or pre-existing injury, the physical therapists at UW Health Sports Rehabilitation can evaluate you and provide individual recommendations to expedite your safe return to play. For an appointment, call (608) 263-4765.