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Injury rate in youth football on the increase

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Young football players are being treated for injuries more frequently, and it´s not just because growing numbers of girls and boys are participating in the sport.

A US study has shown that with the increase in the number of football (soccer) players there has been a rise in the number and rate of injuries.

“The sport of soccer has changed dramatically in the last 25 years,” commented Dr Huiyun Xiang, senior author and director of Research Core at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children´s Hospital. “We´re seeing athletes play year-round now thanks to club, travel and rec leagues, and the intensity of play is higher than it ever has been. These factors combine to lead to more risk of injury.”

Between 1990 and 2014, the annual injury rate per 10,000 youth players increased by 111%, according to the study published in the journal Pediatrics.

The most common injuries were sprains or strains (35%), fractures (23%), and soft tissue injuries (22%), and occurred to the upper body (21%), ankle (18%), and head or neck (18%). Concussions or other closed-head injuries (CHIs) accounted for only 7% of the injuries, but the annual rate of these injuries per 10,000 players increased significantly, by 1,596%, from 1990 to 2014.

“While we can´t tell from our data why the rate of concussions among soccer players is increasing, it is important for athletes and families to be aware of this issue and what they can do to reduce the risks,” said Tracy Mehan, manager of translational research at the Center for Injury Research and Policy. “Young athletes take longer to recover from concussions than older athletes and they can put themselves at risk for second-impact syndrome and repeat concussions if they return to play too soon — both of which can lead to serious, life-altering injuries.”

To help avoid injury, the researchers recommend that players participate in a pre-season conditioning programme focusing on building core muscles, strengthening neck muscles, and working on hip and thigh strength. Players should also warm up before play, and wear protective gear such as shin guards.

Meanwhile, coaches and referees should ensure they enforce the rules of the game, follow concussion management and return-to-play policies, and limit heading for younger players.

“The increasing number and rate of paediatric soccer-related injuries, especially soccer-related concussions/closed head injuries, underscore the need for increased efforts to prevent these injuries,” the researchers concluded.