Does the age of the player affect his chances of getting injured in pro soccer? What about his experience?

A study of European professional soccer recently published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine offers answers to those questions.

Karolina Kristenson, MD and colleagues collected statistics on training, matches and injuries for 26 clubs in 10 countries in Europe over nine seasons. Collectively 1401 players and 797,389 hours of soccer exposure were analyzed.

Knee injury in soccerThe authors of the study found that these 26 clubs had 6140 reported injuries during those nine seasons. Slightly more injuries occurred during matches than in training (3453 versus 2687).

When comparing newcomers to veterans, it is worth noting that the average age was much different. The average age of newcomers was 18.8 years old, while established players averaged 26.0 years old.

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The key finding of this study is that newcomers generally have lower rates of soccer injuries than established players. Specifically:

• Newcomers have lower rates of total injuries.
• Newcomers have lower rates of training injuries.
• Newcomers have lower rates of muscle and tendon injuries.
• Newcomers have lower rates of contusions (bruises).

Interestingly, newcomers did have higher rates of stress injuries to bones than the established players.

Dr. Geier examines a Charleston Battery player's knee injury.
Examining the knee of a Charleston Battery player in the team’s training room
Finally, the researchers found that injury rates for professional soccer players increased with age. That trend persisted even after controlling for the position played and match exposure. Injury rates peaked among players aged 29 to 30.

It is difficult to draw conclusions about these findings, but there are some possible explanations. Older players often have suffered many injuries during their careers. It is possible that these problems take longer to heal or even recur more commonly as they get older. And while it is hard to say why rookies would have lower injury rates generally, the increased training with the jump in level of competition could affect their increased rates of bone stress injuries.

Do these results surprise you? Do you have any ideas why newcomers have lower injury rates, or why older players have increased injury rates? Share your thoughts below!

Kristenson K, Walden M, Ekstrand J, Hagglund M. Lower Injury Rates for Newcomers to Professional Soccer: A Prospective Cohort Study Over 9 Consecutive Seasons. Am J Sports Med. Published online before print April 23, 2013.