In football, leg injuries are common. Acute injuries usually occur during the game season, and repetitive strain injuries during the training season. Most of the injuries don’t require an operation, only a proper rehabilitation. In some cases, an operation is necessary and may even shorten the recovery time.
Injuries are common in soccer.
“Around 500 ligament injuries occur in Finland every day, and many of them in connection with football. Luckily, an ankle ligament injury usually heals on its own. Sometimes the ankle is taped, but rarely operated. The athlete may have to rest for up to a month, though,” says Mikko Kirjavainen, orthopaedic surgeon at Mehiläinen Sports Hospital.
Most of the injuries occur in the legs.
“The injuries are usually in the thighs, knees, ankles and feet. The foot often has repetitive strain injuries, and their treatment depends on the severity of the condition. For some foot injuries, an operation is recommended because it shortens the recovery time. There are also head injuries, but they are fortunately quite rare.”
Operation doesn’t always mean a long recovery period
The level of injuries and their treatment depend on where they are.
“Both the front and back of the thigh have a lot of repetitive strain injuries. Most of them can be treated without an operation,” says Kirjavainen.
Injuries that need to be operated, most often occur in the knee area.
“The most common knee injury for a soccer player is either medial collateral ligament injury (MCL), anterior cruciate ligament injury (ACL), or their combination. A meniscus injury is also common. ACL is usually operated, whereas MCL can heal on its own with proper care and support. The recovery time for knee injuries is always long.”
Rehabilitation process and mental welfare matter
“Proper rehabilitation is the basis for everything – you should not return to the field too early. Mehiläinen Sports Hospital has a Return to Play program where we have defined certain criteria: for example, the level of coordination of the injured limb must be at least 90% of that of a healthy limb. With the front or back thigh, we are looking for a 90% level of strength compared to a healthy thigh. When these levels have been reached, it is safe to return to the game.”
Mikko Kirjavainen also reminds of the mental welfare.
“Even with physical injuries, the mental side is extremely important. It would be good to engage a sports psychologist in the process. We are lacking a debriefing culture, but the injury of a player should also be processed with the team.”
At Mehiläinen Sports Hospital, the mental state of the athlete is always checked before they return to the field.
“We always ask them how they feel, and whether they still trust the injured limb. We go through what happened step by step – how the injury occurred, and how the treatment and rehabilitation went.”
Expert tips for treating soccer player’s leg injuries:
- seek treatment as soon as possible
- be patient with rehabilitation, follow the instructions of the attending physician
- take care of your mental state, talk about the injury with your coach and your team, and if necessary, with a sports psychologist
- remember prevention: have a versatile training program especially during training season