Youth: This is where soccer injuries happen

Apr 1, 2019

***This article is part of an educational series for soccer parents and youth players new to soccer***

We all know that soccer is a contact sport. We, as players, have experienced the grind first hand, on the pitch and sidelines. Therefore it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that soccer has one of the highest injury rates of any sport, including head injury rates that rival American football. Not joke.

In 2009 the NCAA completed a 5-year intensive study of both men and women’s soccer, compiling the most in depth statistics on soccer-specific injuries to date. Here’s what you need to know:

Areas of the body most exposed to risk

It should be no surprise that in a game like soccer, the lower body takes the majority of hits. As shown in the chart 60% of all injuries affecting the lower limbs.

What may come as more of a surprise to some is the rate of head injuries in soccer. With a 5.5% concussion rate for men and 9.2% for women, soccer has one of the highest head injury rates of any sport. A 2017 study by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons even showed that female high school soccer players suffer a higher head injury rate than American football players.

1 Injury for every 2 players each season

The overall injury rates were 7.7 and 7.3 per 1,000 athlete exposures (games and practices combined) for men and women respectively. For comparison, per CDC report on college sports injuries, American football has an injury rate of 9.2 and men's lacrosse a rate of 6.5.

The NCAA (over 5 years) reported a total of 55,000 injuries in each gender, for an average of 11,000 injuries per year across approximately 22,000 players. This boils down to an average of 1 injury every 2 players each season.

Severity of injury

Roughly one of three injuries (~35%) caused three to six games/practices of time loss, and one in ten (~10%) injuries accounted for over twenty-one missed games/practices.

Most common causes and types of injuries

While players do roll ankles and pull muscles, according to the study, the majority of injuries in soccer come from contact between players.

The most common injuries for men included: Muscle strains (25.8%- hamstring and adductor groin strains being most common), ligament sprains (25.3%- particularly lateral ankle), contusions (20.3%), and concussions (5.5%).

For women’s soccer the most common injuries included ligament sprains (25.7%), followed by muscle strains (21.5%), contusions (15.9%) and concussions (9.2%).

Highest Injury Rates During 2nd Halves and Pre-season

Soccer players are more than three times more likely to be injured in a game (16.9 injuries per 1,000 athlete exposures) than in practice (5.1 per 1,000 athlete exposures).

Preseason has the highest overall injury rate (8.7 per 1,000 athlete exposures), while the postseason has the lowest (4.6 per 1,000 athlete exposures).

In competitions, more injuries occurred in the second half versus the first half.

"Men's and Women's Soccer Injuries: Data from 2004-2009 seasons", NCAA

CDC Report on "College Sports-Related Injuries- United States from 2009-2013" - link

"Sport- and Gender-specific Trends in the Epidemiology of Concussions Suffered by High School Athletes" 2017 American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons- link

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