Want your soccer player to stay off the sidelines? The answer could be in what happens before he or she sets foot on the field.
A consistent warm-up program may make the difference in preventing injuries in soccer players, says Franciscan Physician Network orthopedic surgeon Sean Calloway, MD, a team physician for the USA National Soccer Program who recently traveled with the US Women's Under-18 National Soccer Team to La Manga, Spain.
"Before you're going to compete, it's extremely important that you warm up," Calloway said. "There are several different ideas concerning the best way to get ready for competition. FIFA and USA Soccer have adopted the concept of actively warming up. We're no longer standing in a circle. We're not stretching cold muscles and counting to 15."
"FIFA has developed what is called the '11+,' an international program that looks at how to prevent injuries in athletes. The '11+' is based on lower-extremity strengthening and core strengthening. We're able to build it into our rehabilitation programs, but also build it into a prehab program to prevent these types of injuries."
The "11+" consists of a series of 15 exercises divided into three separate components:
The comprehensive warm-up program takes about 20 minutes to complete, but it's well worth the effort for players who have been able to continue play uninjured. A research study through the University of Basel in Switzerland reports that the "11+" warm-up program reduced soccer injuries in youth players by about 50 percent.
This international effort has come as soccer's popularity (and the rate of youth injuries) is rising. A 10-year study of soccer injuries among high school players found that ligament sprains, muscle strains, and concussions are the most common injuries for these student athletes.
"One particular at-risk group is middle-school and high-school aged girls playing soccer, basketball, and other sports that require cutting and pivoting. The rate of ACL tear in girls is much higher than in boys. One main reason for this increased risk is the lack of a standardized exercise program to strengthen certain muscle groups that are commonly weaker in girls," Calloway said.
Equally important to the warm-up is the body's need to cool down after a soccer game, Calloway added.
"A lot of us forget that, after we've run for 90 minutes, we need to actually cool our bodies down before sitting in the car for half an hour," he said. “A specific cool down regimen is needed.
This was very evident when I was with the US soccer team. We would spend 30 minutes after a competitive game cooling down and making sure that the athletes were back to baseline."