Young female soccer players are more likely to be hurt in the game, while young boys are twice as likely to be hospitalized for their injuries, according to new research released today.
The study, published in the February issue of the American Journal of Sports Medicine, is the first to look at soccer-related injuries in the entire U.S. population of athletes aged 2 to 18 years old.
Between 1990 and 2003, the researchers found nearly 1.6 million soccer injuries among boys and girls.
The most interesting findings were the differences in age, gender and injury rates in these young athletes.
Youngsters More at Risk
Among both girls and boys, injuries to the lower extremities, like ankle or knee sprains, were the most common -- and the risk increased with age, according to the study.
Injuries to the head were less frequent overall, the study said, but among players aged 15 to 18 years, concussions were the most likely injury.
Fractured bones were the third-highest reported injury, making up nearly 25 percent of emergency room visits.
Of all injuries reported, 49 percent occurred among children between the ages of 10 and 14.
"It is possible that the middle school-aged player is bigger, stronger and playing harder, leading to an increase in the likelihood of injury," says study author Christy Knox, a research associate for the Columbus Children's Hospital in Ohio.
Girls Versus Boys
While the overall soccer injury rates did not appear to be on the rise, the number of young girls injured increased significantly over the period covered by the research.
Girls injuries were more likely to be to the ankle or knee, resulting in more strains and sprains than young boys.
"Girls may be built differently, putting more strain and stress on those parts," Knox says.
She also suggests that a possible reason for the sharp rise in injuries to female players is the increase in girls getting involved in soccer.
Boys suffered injuries to the head, face and neck more often than female players, and the younger the boy, the more likely he was to be hospitalized for soccer injuries, the researchers found.
"These injuries could be related to how aggressive these players are," says Knox. But she says that the researchers had no clear explanation for the findings.
Soccer Still Safe
"Despite the large number of injuries [found in this study], soccer is a relatively safe sport," says Knox.
This study is meant to encourage parents to keep kids injury-free when on the field. Making sure children are playing with the right age group and are protected with adequate gear may decrease these numbers.
"Parents should closely supervise children, especially young kids whose injuries are harder to diagnose," Knox says. "Injuries can happen in the backyard or in organized soccer groups. We want to do things to keep kids as safe as possible."