Study released Monday finds surge in youth soccer injuries

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - New numbers released Monday from a study on youth soccer injuries show a startling increase, especially in head injuries.

Researchers at Nationwide Children's Hospital say the rate of head injuries shot up nearly 1600% over the 25-year study period.

"The sport of soccer has changed dramatically in the last 25 years,” said Huiyun Xiang MD, MPH, PhD, senior author and Director of Research Core at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital. “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."

Soccer has become one of the most popular youth sports in the U.S. This year more than 3 million children will play soccer. That's an increase of 90% since 1990.

Indiana Soccer has a current membership base of more than 56,000 youth players, 8,000 active coaches, 3,800 referees and thousands of volunteers through its network of more than 140 local member clubs across the state.

"I don’t remember much, but what I’ve been told is I was coming out to get a ball, and my own teammate’s knee collided with my head," said high school soccer player Josh Zweydorff.

Zweydorff suffered a concussion and was back in the game about two weeks later.

"Even with the slightest little tap to the head, we have to go see the trainer, even if you’re showing no symptoms, just to make sure you’re okay."

Although the rate of head injuries shot up significantly, researchers say concussions and other closed head injuries only accounted for 7% of all injuries, but they are among the most serious.

The study also found the rate of all soccer-related injuries, from sprains to broken bones, more than doubled.

Teenagers are at the greatest risk. Older children ages 12-17 accounted for 73% of the injuries.

The study also found 39% of injuries occurred when a player was struck by either another player or the ball and 29% were from falls.

Girls were more likely than boys to sustain a knee or ankle injury.

Researchers say following these guidelines can help keep your athlete on the field:

  • 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 in 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.

The study was published Monday in Pediatrics.