Soccer injuries on the rise

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COLUMBIA - For youth soccer players this season, smart playing techniques on the field could prevent major head injuries.

A new study conducted by the Center for Injury Research and Policy found soccer related injuries among youth players increased significantly throughout the 25-year observation period.

From 1990 to 2014, the study monitored players ages 7-17 years old and the number of field injuries reported. Per 10,000 players, the study concluded the annual injury rate increased by 111 percent.

Players ages 12-17 accounted for 73 percent of the injuries and a variety of injuries contributed to the total. Sprains or strains (35 percent), fractures (23 percent), soft tissue injury (22 percent), ankle (17.8 percent) were some of the leading injuries.

While concussions accounted for only 7 percent of the injuries, the annual rate of concussions per 10,000 players increased by almost 1600 percent from 1990 to 2014.

For youth players in Columbia, some recreational leagues are taking action to prevent head injuries throughout the season.

Synergy Sports co-owner Anne Sievers said in January US Soccer banned “headers” (hitting the soccer ball with one’s head) for children under the age of 12. Synergy Sports adopted this rule in March, but Sievers said she has not noticed a major change among player safety.

“For the most part our kids didn’t do a lot of it in the rec program at a younger age, so we didn’t have too much of an issue with it,” she said.

However, Sievers said coaches know what to look for in case of emergency.

“All of our soccer coaches have been certified and have all had to take a concussion test, so in order for us to be coaches, we’ve had to pass the impact concussion test.”

Sievers said there is set protocol in case a head injury occurs on the field.

“We’d pull the child off immediately, wouldn’t let him go back in the game,” she said. “If we were really concerned about them having a concussion, we would strongly encourage their parents to take them to have a health care professional to look at them.”

David Ford, who works as the certified athletic trainer at Battle High School, said preventing young players from doing headers could protect them.

“At that age a lot of them have a lot of weak neck muscles, so when they’re hitting that ball and that ball hits at a certain speed, that ball hits them in the head and can cause concussions,” Ford said.

He said delaying the skill is not detrimental to a players' abilities when they enter more competitive soccer leagues.

“Once they transition into high school it will be an easy thing to add,” Ford said. “Our coaches do some practicing of that, so it’s not like players just come out and head balls, they have some instruction on how to do it.”

Ford said the team also takes action to prevent other injuries from occurring on the field.

“We try to do some ankle strengthening here and there if people do feel they are weak in the ankles or if their legs are giving them some problems we’ll get them in strengthening,” Ford said. “The teams do weightlifting, so that helps with preventing injuries. If they do get injured, then they’re coming to see me for more specialized treatment.”

Overall, Ford explained injuries are easily preventable if players are aware of what’s happening on the field.

"If they keep their eyes open and pay attention to what they are doing, they’re going to have less instances of collision,” Ford said.