Foot and ankle injuries are very common in soccer players, with the Orthopaedic Trauma Institute estimating that ankle injuries account for 20 to 30 percent of all soccer-related injuries. Whether you are just kicking the ball around with friends or playing in a competitive league, it's important to treat your feet and ankles right. Here are six ways to prevent foot and ankle injuries on the soccer field.
1. Choose your footwear carefully.
Don't just buy the first pair of soccer shoes you try on, especially if you have a foot problem such as low arches. Buying a shoe that does not support your feet properly leaves you vulnerable to sprains, bruises, and other injuries. If you tend to overpronate--roll your foot too far inward when you walk or run--you'll need extra support to absorb shock from the soccer field. Replace your soccer shoes every six months so you always have the right amount of foot support for your favorite sport.
2. Condition your muscles.
If you haven't played soccer in several months, take time to condition your muscles before you start playing again. Prevent injury by warming up for five to ten minutes before you start your conditioning routine. Then perform exercises targeting the muscles in the calves and ankles. If you need help creating a safe exercise routine, talk with a podiatrist who has experience in podiatric sports medicine.
3. Rest your feet and ankles as needed.
Your risk of injury increases with muscle fatigue, so it is important to rest your feet and ankles. These rest periods give inflamed tissue time to repair itself before you play again. If you notice any swelling, wrap an ice pack in a towel and apply it to the swollen area for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. If you experience pain on the field, stop playing and rest until it improves.
4. Tape your ankles or wear ankle braces.
Support your ankles by taping them or wearing braces during games and practice sessions. This limits mobility and reduces the risk of injury. If you choose tape, use medical tape that will not irritate your skin. Using the wrong taping or bracing techniques can actually increase your risk of injury, so ask your athletic trainer to show you the right way to support your ankles.
5. Strengthen your weaker foot.
When you jump and land on the field, both ankle muscles should absorb the impact evenly. If one of your ankles is stronger than the other, there is a greater chance you will sustain an ankle sprain while playing. Have your ankle strength assessed at the beginning of each season. If one is weaker than the other, work with your trainer to strengthen the muscles of that ankle.
6. Take care of your feet.
Blisters are minor injuries, but they cause discomfort and affect the way you play. Avoid blisters by wearing shoes that do not slide around on your feet and investing in athletic socks made of synthetic materials. These materials reduce friction and eliminate moisture, reducing your risk of developing blisters. Hot spots--red spots that are slightly painful to the touch--are the first sign that a blister is forming; if you notice a hot spot on your skin, try different socks or cleats.
Playing soccer is a great way to stay active and ensure you get the right amount of exercise, but the game is not without risk. Prevent injuries by wearing the right shoes, conditioning your foot and leg muscles, using tape or braces to support your ankles, and getting as much rest as possible. If you are concerned about injuring one of your feet or ankles, talk to a podiatric sports medicine specialist about the best way to reduce your risk. You may be able to wear custom-made foot inserts or change your exercise routine to keep your feet in good shape.