Soccer and Ankle Injuries
Dr. Thomas Patavino of Thoracic Park Alternative Health

   The popularity of soccer is a growing trend in the United States. Arguably the most popular sport in the world, soccer seems to have found its way into the hearts and feet of American children. Prospect is no different, as the fields promise to be filled all summer long. I think the growing popularity is due to a number of factors. For starters, limited equipment and experience is required for beginners to participate in the sport. In addition, children can get started at a very young age. Many start playing around the time of pre-school and can progress as they mature. Finally, soccer is viewed as a relatively safe sport compared to others. Although soccer is usually low-impact in the beginning years, the risks increase with the age and competitive spirit of the participants.

      Soccer injuries are growing probably as fast the popularity of the sport. The most common areas prone to injury are the ankles and knees. The injuries can range from minor contusions (bruises) either from the feet of other players or blocking the ball all the way to more serious conditions like torn ligaments and fractures. The most common injury by far is the ankle sprain.

  Ankle sprains usually result from mis-stepping and rolling the foot inward. The ligaments quickly stretch beyond their normal length due to the load of the rest of the body. The degree of severity can range from minor soreness to torn ligaments, extreme bruising and swelling with the inability to bear weight. Regardless on the severity of the sprain, proper rehabilitation and strengthening must be prescribed in order to avoid future occurrences. All too often children become statistics of having a chronic history of ankle sprains due to improper strengthening after the initial injury. Adults with “bad” ankles are usually the by-products of a lifetime of ankle injuries stemming from childhood. The reason many people are prone to frequent episodes of twisting and spraining their ankles is because of joint instability.

    Whenever a joint is injured there is a recovery period. It can take an average of 2 to 8 weeks for the ligaments to return to their natural length. However, even if the ligaments, muscles and tendons are no longer strained or swollen that doesn't mean the injured area will return to pre-injury status. In most cases, the area is weakened and susceptible to future reoccurrences. For starters, surrounding muscles and soft tissue should be strengthened to protect the weaker part of the body. Secondly, tiny little nerve endings caller propriocepters have to be retrained. They help set tension in our muscles and ligaments so we have stability with movement. Failure to retrain the propriocepters removes the safety net provided by our nervous system and jeopardizes the integrity of joint stability.

      We often underestimate the impact of injury in children due to their increased flexibility and rate of healing. In most cases, children heal quicker than adults but that doesn't mean that concerns should disappear as soon as the pain fades away. Current trends in health care often focus on the removal of symptoms rather than incorporating preventative measures to reduce the chances of future reoccurring injury. Proper stretching and strengthening and joint movement is just as important as the immediate care administered to alleviate pain. A short amount of attentive care after the symptoms subside will save countless hours in the emergency room or on crutches later.

    Every sport has its own share of risks. Soccer has a propensity for the knees and ankles. Injuries will occur because of the nature of the game, but posttraumatic care can make a world of difference. Proper care can not only reduce recovery time, but prevent the chances for future occurrences and chronic nagging injuries. Remember, stable ankles are found scoring winning goals rather than limping on the sidelines.