5 Common Knee Injuries in Soccer Players

The inspiration for today’s exploration of knee injuries in soccer players came from a recent personal experience. One night last week, I was awaiting the start of my indoor soccer game and I looked up at the field and saw that a player was being carried off. When his teammates seemed to be congregated around him on the bench, I became worried and headed over to offer my help. He had hurt his knee, somehow landing wrong from a jump and his knee buckled. His knee was quite uncomfortable but otherwise he was okay.

Each individual sport has its own inherent risk of injury. This particular incident reminded me that every single time an athlete participates in a training session or competition, that athlete is accepting a certain level of injury risk in order to compete. Risk of injury is highest in collision or contact sports such as American football, soccer, basketball, and ice hockey. Logically then, injury risk is lower for limited contact sports such as bicycling, baseball, gymnastics, and skiing, and lowest for non-contact sports like bowling, dancing, golf, swimming, and track and field. (click here for the complete reference for the “Classification of Sports by Contact” from the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness)

In soccer players, about 75% of injuries involve the lower extremities: muscle contusions, ankle sprains, and abrasions being the most common of those. As skill and age increase, so does the risk of injury. At the collegiate level, for both men’s and women’s soccer, the majority of severe injuries include knee ligament or meniscus injuries, ankle sprains, and concussions. And injuries are three or four times more likely to occur in games than in practices.

Knee injuries in soccer players can vary from an overuse tendonitis to ligament and/or meniscus tears. Here is a list (with links to helpful resources from the Mayo Clinic and WedMD) of the five most common knee injuries in soccer players:

  1. Tendonitis (quadriceps or patellar tendon)
    1. In adolescents, the open growth plate is the weak link in the muscle-tendon-bone system, so knee pain in these athletes is often due to one of these instead:
      1. Sinding-Larsen-Johansson Syndrome: pain occurs on the lowest point of the kneecap
      2. Osgood-Schlatter disease: pain below the kneecap where the patellar tendon attaches to the tibia
  2. Patellofemoral pain: pain around the kneecap
  3. Osteochondral injury (osteochondritis dessicans): swollen, painful knee
  4. Ligament tear: knee trauma, swelling
    1. Medial collateral ligament (MCL) tear: ligament on the inside aspect of the knee
    2. Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear: ligament deep inside the knee
  5. Meniscus tear: knee trauma, usually twisting, also with swelling

There is an injury profile unique to every sport and I think it is prudent for athletes, parents, and coaches to be aware of the injuries common to their sport. Such increased awareness will increase the likelihood of a timely diagnosis of an injury and institution of appropriate treatment. Injuries are always easier to treat, and to recover from, when they are caught and addressed early, before they become a chronic problem.

Note: The information presented on this site is intended to enhance, not replace, a patient/site visitor’s interaction with his/her physician. If you have concerns about a knee injury from playing soccer, the best first step is to talk to your doctor. S/he may then recommend referral to a Sports Medicine Specialist for evaluation, diagnosis, treatment, and management of return to play.