Muscles ID'd as big injury spot for pro soccer

NEW YORK Thu Mar 3, 2011 4:21pm EST

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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - About a third of injuries that knock professional soccer players off the field are muscle related, a Swedish study shows. Many of these are reinjuries that take longer to heal and might have been avoided with adequate recovery from the original injuries.

Age and playing surface also have a role in which players suffer muscle injuries serious enough to put them on the bench, according to the report published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.

The researchers looked at the injuries of about 2,300 players in three European soccer leagues. On average, players had slightly more than one muscle injury severe enough to be "unable to fully participate in training or match play" for every two seasons. Each season, more than a third of the players missed a match or training session due to a muscle injury.

Nine out of ten such injuries involved the big muscle groups in the legs: calf, hamstrings, quads, and the hip/groin area. These usually come from a player running or kicking, and not from when they hit another player, Dr. Robert Brophy, assistant professor of sports medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, told Reuters Health.

This is actually a good thing, he added, because trainers and coaches can change work-outs to help avoid pulls and strains. It's harder to avoid injuries that players get from running into each other.

"Contact's going to happen," said Brophy, who was not involved in this study.

Players aged 16 to 21 were less likely overall to get hurt than older players, especially to hurt their calves. For every 2,000 hours of play, younger players had about one calf strain, compared to almost four among players older than 30.

Injuries were about six times more likely in games than during practice. This is in contrast to pro football, where half of the hamstring injuries happen in the pre-season. (See Reuters story of February 21, 2011.)

Only about a third of soccer injuries are from overuse, Brophy said. The majority come from a sudden pull or strain.

About one in six players were reinjured, which means a recovery period up to 30 percent longer than with the first injury.

This can result from "trying to come back from injury too quickly," Brophy said. The Swedish findings highlight the fact that trainers and players need to make sure they go through adequate rehab before heading back out on the field, he said.

Playing on newer generation artificial turf also seemed to reduce injuries compared with natural grass.

The authors of the study, from the Department of Medical and Health Sciences at Linkoping University in Sweden, did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

Their findings have implications for teams' ability to reduce costly player down-time, they note in their report, urging further research into the specific causes of the most common muscle injuries to generate ideas for preventive measures.

The study, which was very well done, Brophy said, gives a better understanding of what muscles get injured, and how this can affect pro soccer players' return to the game. It's important because so many players get hurt, he said.

"It's going to be a common occurrence during someone's career as a pro soccer player," Brophy said.

SOURCE: bit.ly/f9eSBf The American Journal of Sports Medicine, online February 18, 2011.

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