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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A new study of young soccer players and their thigh-muscle injuries suggests that age, site of injury and how it happened may help determine how long a player will be off the field.
"It's going to help them get an idea of when these people are going to get back to their game...That's really what an athlete wants to know," said Tim Hewett, head of sports medicine research at The Ohio State University and Cincinnati Children's Hospital, who was not involved in the study.
Typically, thigh muscle injuries are caused by a player overusing the muscle or being hit, and are a common occurrence in both adults' and kids' soccer. The new study, published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, is one of the first to look specifically at the injuries and recovery times in young athletes.
Researchers analyzed thigh-muscle injuries over the five years between May 2000 and May 2005 in the youth leagues of the English Football Association. More than 12,000 boys between the ages of eight and 16 played in the leagues during that time.
Overall, there were 10,225 muscle injuries, of which 1,288 -- about 13 percent -- involved muscles in the thigh. Most of those were in the quadriceps, hamstring and adductor muscle groups.
On average, players were out for about 13 days after their first injury; but that time varied depending on the specifics of the injury and the player.
It took longer for older players to recover than younger ones, and hamstring injuries took the longest to heal compared to the other muscle groups. Contact injuries took longer to heal, too, compared to overuse injuries.
The worst-case scenario was therefore a 16-year-old player hit in the hamstring, who took around 14 weeks to heal, according to Dr. David Deehan of Newcastle University, one of the study authors.
The best case, he told Reuters Health, was a younger player with an injury from overuse, who took less than two weeks to recover.
Deehan's team also found that players were typically off for 12 days if they were reinjured, which is a day less than for the first injury. In contrast, previous research has shown that adult athletes usually take about four days longer to heal from a re-injury.
In addition, the analysis detected an increased risk of thigh muscle injury after the middle of the first half, and that risk continued throughout the second half.
"It just shows that these kids don't really have the endurance to recover over halftime," said Dr. Kristina Wilson, from the sports medicine department at Phoenix Children's Hospital in Arizona, who was not involved with the new work.
The study authors reached a similar conclusion and noted that if extending the break is not an option, teams can consider substituting players to give the others time to rest.
Dr. Lyle J. Micheli, director of sports medicine at Children's Hospital Boston, said it should be noted that the kids in this study are pre-professional, and may have access to better trainers or care than the average club athlete.
Regarding recovery times, "These are the best case scenarios," Micheli said.
However, he added, there are certain things parents and coaches should do to react to a muscle injury in one of their players, including putting ice and gentle pressure on the site, and getting rest. He added that those players should also ideally be seen by someone specialized in sports medicine.
SOURCE: bit.ly/wU01K2 American Journal of Sports Medicine, online January 4, 2012.