Injury Prevention


Injury Prevention

Injury prevention is central to safe play. U.S. Soccer’s Recognize to Recover program provides resources and guidance to help players fight off injury so they can stay on the field. Not all injuries can be avoided, but the severity and probability of injury can be reduced through proper conditioning, training routines and good sportsmanship, making the game of soccer safer for all who participate. 


Soccer injuries typically fall into two categories:

  • Those caused by use, such as muscle strains and joint pain
  • Those resulting from a sudden forceful event, such as ankle sprains and knee injuries.

Ankle Injury

Ankle Injury

Ankle sprain, the most common injury for soccer players, is an injury to the ligaments of the ankle. Ligaments connect bones and provide stability for the body’s joints. The ligaments on the outside of the ankle are injured when the foot rolls inward. Ankle sprains can occur when a player is running, cutting, kicking, tackling or being tackled, or landing from a jump.

Another common ankle injury among soccer players is "Footballer’s ankle," caused when bone spurs form on the front part of the player’s ankle on both the shin bone and ankle bone. Doctors believe the repetitive motion of kicking the ball causes the bone spurs to develop. If footballer’s ankle is suspected, the player should see a foot and ankle specialist for an evaluation. Confirming the injury usually requires medical imaging and it may require surgery to correct and relieve the symptoms.

U.S. Soccer’s Recognize to Recover program provides guidance on treating and recovering from ankle injury.


Symptoms of an ankle sprain include:

  • Pain, especially while walking
  • Swelling
  • Bruising



















Initial treatment for an ankle sprain is RICE therapy:

  • REST – keep off the injured ankle

  • ICE – apply ice to the area for twenty minutes every hour; place a towel between the skin and ice, to prevent burns

  • COMPRESSION – use a wrap to stabilize the injury; start at the toes and wrap up the leg past the ankle

  • ELEVATION – raise the leg to help with swelling and pain; when elevating an injured ankle, remember "toes above the nose"

Other treatments may include:

  • Using over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen.
  • Using a functional brace to support the ankle for 5-7 days maximum.
  • Following an initial 4-5 days of RICE therapy, players may start physical therapy based on their physician’s recommendation. Physical therapy can include an active range of motion exercises, weight bearing training and retraining the muscles and body.
  • All athletes should see a medical professional for further evaluation following an ankle sprain to determine the true extent of the injury and establish a proper physical therapy timeline.

Athletic Trainers

Athletic Trainers

In order for any athlete to be at his or her very best, injury prevention and physical activity must go hand in hand. Athletic trainers play a critical role in preventing, identifying and treating injuries. U.S. Soccer’s Recognize to Recover program highlights these health care professionals and how they help protect player health and safety.


Athletic trainers play an important role on your team. They help to protect your athletes from many sports-related injuries. They provide medical care and supervision during games and practices; rehabilitative services should an injury occur; and develop injury prevention programs to keep athletes healthy and on the field. They also provide injury prevention education during practice, one-on-one time with athletes and through regular communication with parents.

Having an athletic trainer on your team also helps support the decision of whether or not to put an athlete back into a game following injury. Based on his or her medical training, the athletic trainer can make this decision – allowing coaches to focus on coaching, the parents to focus on cheering and the athletes to focus on playing.

Did you know?

  • U.S. Soccer requires an athletic trainer present at all U.S. Soccer Development Academy home games. A study from the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that the presence of athletic trainers can have a significant positive impact on student athlete health, resulting in lower injury rates, improved diagnosis and return-to-play decisions for concussion and other injuries.
  • 62 percent of all organized sports injuries occur during practice.
  • According to the CDC, many sports-related injuries are predictable and preventable


Athletic trainers are health care professionals who collaborate with physicians to provide preventive services, emergency care, clinical diagnosis, therapeutic intervention and rehabilitation of injuries and medical conditions. They work in a variety of settings including educational institutions, professional and amateur sports organizations, hospitals, clinics, corporate workplaces, public safety services, the military and performing arts. Athletic trainers must always work under the direction of a physician.

Athletic trainers must graduate from an accredited baccalaureate program and more than 70 percent have a master’s degree or higher. Upon completion of an accredited athletic training education program, students become eligible for national certification by successfully completing the Board of Certification (BOC) examination. Athletic trainers are licensed or regulated in 49 states and the District of Columbia.

Athletic trainers are trained in:

  • Prevention, evaluation and rehabilitation of orthopedic injuries such as ACL sprains and cartilage tears in the knee
  • Manual therapy
  • Concussion management
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Heat stroke
  • Cervical spine injury


Protective Equipment

Protective Equipment

Equipment is there for a reason – to prevent injury. Players who do not wear protective equipment, or wear it incorrectly, are much more likely to get hurt. U.S. Soccer’s Recognize to Recover program provides resources and guidance to help players fight off injury so they can stay on the field.


All players should wear the following equipment and follow these tips for proper fit:

  • Shoes should fit properly and are laced tight each time.
  • Appropriate shoes (and soles) should be worn for the field surface being played on.
  • Shin guards should end just below the knee and fit snuggly around the ankle bone.
  • Socks should completely cover the shin guards.
  • Soccer balls should be properly inflated, water-resistant and the correct size for the age group.

While some equipment is optional, players can consider the following to prevent against injury:

  • Goalkeepers should wear padded gloves with finger-protectors.
  • Goalkeepers should wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, possibly with elbow and knee padding.
  • Mouth guard is an option to protect teeth, lips and tongue.
  • Jewelry should not be worn – except for a medical alert bracelet.

Did you know?

  • Ankle sprains are the most common soccer injury for players in high school and younger. Strengthening the ankle by using a balance board can help prevent ankle sprains.
  • Learning proper technique when jumping and landing can prevent many non-contact injuries to knees and ankles.
  • A 15-20 minute regeneration session after practice or a game speeds up the body’s recovery.
  • Strains — or pulled muscles — are common in soccer and can be avoided with a proper warm up and by stretching before and after practice or a game
  • Hot spots on the feet are a precursor to blisters. Treat the hot spot as soon as it develops to prevent a blister from forming






Warm-up is critical. 
Players should spend at least 20 minutes stretching and warming up at the beginning of practice or before a game. Guided warm-ups prepare the body for more strenuous activities and may include a variety of exercises meant to stimulate the body and simulate game-play skills. 

Training and strengthening
Training and strengthening will enhance the body’s natural protection systems, especially for ankles and knees. Muscles around the joints can be strengthened through consistent practice of specific training exercises, like walking lunges, single toe raises and single leg hops. The affected muscles stabilize the joint and reduce the risk of injury. The upper body can be strengthened to help protect players during challenges and shielding without sacrificing speed or agility.

Injury treatment and recovery
Injury treatment and recovery are important for returning players to the field safely and preventing future injuries. Reducing swelling and pain as quickly as possible after an injury allows for faster recovery and evaluation by a doctor. After an injury, the muscle or joint will not be as strong as before the injury. A player returning to play without allowing the injury to completely heal and recover strength is at risk for a repetitive injury which is often more serious.

Remember RICE when treating a sprain or strain:

  • REST – keep off the injured ankle
  • ICE – apply ice to the area for twenty minutes every hour; place a towel between the skin and ice, to prevent burns
  • COMPRESSION – use a wrap to stabilize the injury; start at the toes and wrap up the leg past the ankle
  • ELEVATION – raise the leg to help with swelling and pain; when elevating an injured ankle, remember "toes above the nose"

The 3 R's of Recovery from Play

The 3 R's of Recovery from Play

When the clock stops or practice ends, players must focus on helping their bodies recover from physical activity and nutrition plays a central role. U.S. Soccer's Recognize to Recover program offers these tips to nutritional recovery: Rehydrate, Refuel and Rebuild.


Rehydration begins as soon as play ends. Players should not stop drinking water when practice or a game ends. In fact, this is a very important time to drink because the body is no longer sweating and losing fluids as rapidly as during play. When a player is dehydrated, it affects his or her performance and the ability to regulate body temperature.

Players should consider these tips for recovering proper hydration levels:

  • Water is the best drink to rehydrate. Avoid carbonated beverages, caffeine and alcohol.
  • Urine should resemble lemonade. Darker urine means you need to drink more.
  • Drink 16-ounces of water for each pound lost during play. That’s a pint per pound.


The body refuels with carbohydrates. Muscles burn through fuel quickly during the strenuous activity of a game or practice. In order to replenish the body’s high-performance fuel — carbohydrates — it is important to eat foods that are good sources of carbs. To do this quickly, eat these foods within an hour after the game or practice, because muscles refill carbs fastest immediately after exercise.

Good carbohydrate food sources:
Banana = 20-30g
Energy/Cereal Bar = 20-40g
Bowl of Oatmeal = 25-30g
Bowl of Cereal = 20-30g
Tuna Sandwich = 20-30g
Chicken Sandwich = 20-30g

Carb Calculator:
To calculate how many grams of carbohydrates a player needs for speeding recovery in the hour after a game, divide their weight by two. The number equals how many grams of carbs they should eat, i.e.: 160 pound player = 80 grams of carbs

High protein food sources:
Milk (one cup, low fat) = 13g
Soy Milk (one cup) = 13g
Greek Yogurt (non-fat) = 6-8g
Eggs = 6g
Nuts (handful) = 6-8g
Tuna Sandwich = 25-30g
Chicken Sandwich = 25-30g


The body rebuilds with protein. Muscles are mostly made of protein. During exercise, muscles get fatigued and damaged. Replacing proteins is imperative to allow muscles to rebuild themselves. Eating more protein also gives undamaged muscles more building material, helping them become stronger over time. Healthy foods contain all the protein anyone needs without adding specialty protein shakes to their diet.

Protein Predictor:
Here are two tips to make sure there is enough protein on a player’s dinner plate:

  • Eat 20-25 grams of high-quality protein each meal
  • Meals should be at 3-4 hour intervals