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What It Takes for Injured Soccer Players To Get Back on the Field

September 09, 2021

For professional soccer players, the drive to win and push their bodies to the limit mean that injuries are part of the territory. Recovery after a soccer injury can be tough, especially for professionals whose livelihood depends on being in peak shape. 

Sustaining an injury can be traumatic for a professional athlete, but rehabilitation helps speed up recovery and keeps athletes strong.

Injuries Take Players Off the Field

Soccer injuries can be either acute or cumulative. Acute injuries are often caused by a fall or a collision between players. Cumulative injuries occur when repetitive stress on a muscle, joint or tissue progressively worsens, causing physical pain and loss of mobility.

For professional soccer players, soft tissue injuries to muscles, nerves and tendons are most common, particularly in the leg, ankle and hip. Common soccer injuries include: 

●       Achilles tendinitis (pain in the back of the ankle)

●       Achilles tendon rupture

●       Ankle sprain

●       Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) sprains

●       Cartilage tears

●       Concussion

●       Hamstring injury

●       Patellar tendinitis (pain in the knee)

●       Shin splints 

Most soccer injuries are in the soft tissues, but when players collide into one another on the field, bone fractures are possible. Stress fractures may also occur due to the overuse or repeated impacts on bone. 

How Long Will a Player Be Out? 

The length of time it takes to heal from a soccer injury generally depends on its type and severity. Most soft tissue injuries typically take from three to four weeks to heal. If a ligament is torn or injured badly enough that it requires surgery to be repaired, however, the athlete may miss out on the entire season. 

Concussions may have a player sidelined for five to seven days, but if the player has had repeated concussions, recovery will take longer. Each consecutive concussion can lead to more symptoms and a longer recovery, and some athletes with repeated concussions may need to miss several months of playing. 

The age of the player is a factor in the healing time, too. The younger the athlete, the more likely they are to make a quick recovery. 

How Is a Professional Athlete’s Rehab Different? 

When a non-athlete sprains their ankle, it may take weeks for it to heal. But when a pro athlete sprains their ankle, they can get back on the field pretty quickly. So what’s the difference? 

Not only are professional athletes in top shape, they also have resources available to them to help expedite their recovery, including a medical team and an intensive physical therapy regimen. Pro athletes may attend intensive physical therapy sessions up to two to three times a day, beginning as soon as possible post-injury and continuing even after the athlete is back on the field. The hours of intensive therapy with experienced physical therapists along with the use of specialized equipment help speed up recovery. 

Though it’s a myth that athletes return “stronger” or “better” than before, they can return to the sport as strong as they once were. For a professional athlete, the focus should not just be on healing the injury, but on their whole body. This means keeping the athlete’s cardiovascular system at the pre-injury level, and maintaining strength, coordination, mobility and stamina. This will better help prepare the athlete for their return once the injury is healed. 

Advances in Rehabilitation 

Thanks to advances in medicine and rehabilitation, career-ending injuries are becoming far less common. When an athlete was injured in the past, they had limited options. For example, it may have taken up to a year to recover from a torn ligament, requiring invasive surgery, plus screws and rods inserted into the leg.  

In recent years, there have been significant strides made in rehabilitation tools and techniques. The same injury today would most likely require less invasive procedures. Professional athletes now have access to a multidisciplinary approach to healing that uses various recovery methods,  including cryotherapy, physical therapy, massage and hydrotherapy. When used together, these techniques may shorten the time of recovery and help an athlete maintain their strength and stamina. 

The ultimate goals of rehabilitation are to reduce or reverse pain, retain and improve mobility and function, and prevent the likelihood of reinjury. Reinjury can occur, but it generally depends on the type and severity of the injury as well as how long ago it occurred. In the short-term, reinjury is more likely, as the tissues may still be healing as the athlete continues to build their strength. But as time passes, the likelihood of suffering the same injury again decreases.


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