If your child loves soccer, then you may be coming to the quick realisation that pains and injuries are a very real and common problem. The good news is that they’re also treatable and preventable!
Knee injuries specifically have been shown to be the most common sports injury during soccer among kids, followed closely by the ankle. Working closely in children’s sports injury management and alongside a number of sports teams around Melbourne’s Point Cook, there’s a common problem we run into when parents bring their kids into us with knee pain after a game of soccer: there’s an assumption that all knee pain in soccer has the same cause, with the same diagnosis, and requires the same treatment.
This couldn’t be further from the truth, though it’s completely understandable that when one team member is treated for pain in their knee, that others may presume that this is what they need and the problem that their child with newly developed knee pain has too. Unfortunately, this leads to parents coming in and telling us about all the things they’ve been trying to help with their child’s injury but with little success – and wasted time and money.
To make your life easier, we’ve identified the differences between a number of common knee injuries we see and treat in kids below, so you can get a better understanding of what the problem may be and what the next steps are. With this said, we always recommend having an assessment and diagnosis by a team that specialise and are experienced in children’s sports medicine and rehab, but this is a great starting point.
Before we start, it’s important to understand the nature of your child’s injury – particularly the difference between an acute, chronic, or an overuse injury.
Understanding the difference between the three is important because they require different approaches to care, and often carry distinct signs and symptoms. For example, acute injuries will often present with instant pain, swelling and redness. Elevating the leg and using ice can help reduce the swelling.
Overuse injuries may ‘flare-up’ halfway through a soccer match, and chronic injury may have no signs of inflammation but your child will continue to feel it when they’re on the feet or applying significant force to their joints and bones during sports. In the case of chronic injuries, you can skip the ice and anti-inflammatories, focusing much more on relieving strain from the damaged structure that’s causing the pain.
For active kids playing soccer that we see and treat here at Sole Motion, the top five causes, in no particular order, are the following.
The knee is one of the most complex joints in the body – and it needs to be fully stable for optimum function. There are two ligaments within the knee (the cruciate ligaments) and two ligaments on either side of the knee joint (the collateral ligaments) that provide this stability, preventing excessive forwards-backwards movement of the thigh bone and shin bone over one another at the joint, as well as excessive side-to-side movement and opening.
During a soccer impact , these ligaments are often injured and disrupted. These acute injuries need immediate care, careful attention, and proper rehabilitation so that a ligament sprain doesn’t progress to a partial tear or a rupture.
This is a form of growing pain at the knees that presents as pain just below the knee cap, at the tip of the shin bone. It’s caused by the repetitive pull of the quads and patellar tendon where it attaches at the top of the shins, irritating the nearby growth plate in growing kids.
It’s common in soccer because of the running and the repetitive bending-straightening of the knee, and is classed as an overuse injury. This means that by preventing the overuse and strain of the tendon, this pain can be effectively managed, treated and prevented.
As the name indicates, this is pain that occurs where the patella (kneecap) meets the top of the femur (thigh bone). Pain is present at the front of and around the kneecap. It’s usually an overuse injury, occurring from the kneecap mistracking as the knee bends and straightens, damaging the underlying cartilage. With this said, your child may experience patellofemoral pain after acute impact too, which is where understanding the real cause (and not making guesses) is critical for effective treatment and care.
The iliotibial band (ITB) is a long connective tissue that runs down the outside of the thigh, from the hip to the top of the shin bone at the knee. Iliotibial band syndrome is typically an overuse injury, occurring when a tight or strained ITB is paired with a repetitively bending knee, leading to damage and inflammation. The result is pain, discomfort, and suboptimal soccer performance on the field – if your child is even able to finish the game.
Effectively treating ITB syndrome means addressing the cause of the tightness and overuse, which may be influenced by muscle strength and flexibility, leg length differences, foot posture, leg alignment, footwear, sudden changes in training (like when your child makes a top-tier team) and more.
Patellar tendonitis, which translates to the inflammation of the patella tendon, feels like pain behind the kneecap or front of the knee. Like Osgood Schlatter’s, it also involves the patellar tendon and the attaching quads.
Patellar tendonitis is also an overuse injury first and foremost, though it can be caused acutely from trauma too. Just look for the signs – if you have significant swelling and redness, then start managing these acute symptoms to give your child some much-needed relief from the pain. Next, it’s important to treat the damaged tendon, which is when you’d book in to see us or your local podiatrist that specialises in children’s sports injuries.
If it isn’t obvious already, there’s a difference between treating an injury – and doing it the right way to relieve pain, repair the damage, and very importantly – help prevent the same problem from happening again next week or years into the future. This is done by understanding and addressing all the causes of injury, which really does vary from child to child.
Some children may have fantastic foot posture and lower limb alignment, while others may have flat feet that are straining certain muscles and affecting their movement and running from the ground up. Some children may just need to strengthen their quads, glutes or hamstring to optimise their performance. This is something we assess here at Sole Motion, and create an ideal management plan to help your soccer star feel and perform their best.