Note: This is a two-part series looking at data on soccer injuries that occurred in the NCAA between the 2004/05 and 2008/09 seasons. In part one, I’ll share my thoughts on the data regarding women’s soccer. In part two, I’ll discuss injuries in the men’s game.

I was asked recently to review an NCAA women’s soccer injury tip sheet for the STOP Sports Injuries campaign recently. The handout lists a variety of statistics regarding the types of injuries, body parts affected, length of time missed, and other data. It then offers suggestions for treatments and prevention. I have included a detailed list of some of the pertinent injury data below, but I think a few points are worth discussing.

First of all, soccer does produce its share of injuries. The overall rate of injuries over this time period in NCAA women’s soccer was 7.3 per 1,000 athlete exposures (games and practices combined). Let’s put that number in perspective. If a team with 25 players has 40 practices and/or games, over 7 players will suffer injuries, on average. That number might not seem high, but it isn’t insignificant either. Fortunately around one-third (34.2%) of those injuries caused the athlete to miss three to six days, while only 12.1% of the injuries caused the athlete to miss 21 days or more. Surgery was only performed for 2.4% of the women’s soccer injuries.

Two findings suggest that conditioning plays a large role in female athletes getting hurt. First, in terms of the time of season in which the injury occurred, preseason had a far greater injury rate (9.1 per 1,000 athlete exposures) than either in-season (6.8 injuries per 1,000 athlete exposures) or postseason (3.8 per 1,000 athlete exposures). While an offseason conditioning program will never completely eliminate the risk of injury in preseason training or during the season, it is possible that these injuries in preseason could result from a rapid increase in training when the body has not adequately prepared for the demands of the sport.

Second, many more of the injuries during games occurred in the second half (51.2%) compared to the first half (32.9%). It seems plausible that fatigue and possibly poor technique that could result from that fatigue could explain that discrepancy.

ACL knee brace soccerAs I have discussed before, ACL injuries are much more likely to occur in female athletes than males. Fortunately they are still uncommon (only 0.7% of all women’s soccer injuries), but they do cause the greatest number of days from practices and games missed, by far. I cannot stress enough the importance on learning and incorporating an ACL injury prevention program into the daily warm-up exercises that female soccer players perform every day. Regardless of what level of soccer they play, these programs might prevent serious injuries.

Lastly, women’s soccer had a much higher rate of concussions than did men’s soccer at the NCAA level. This has been shown at the high-school level as well. In fact, girls’ soccer is one of the top sports for concussion incidence. In NCAA women’s soccer, heading the ball is the sixth most common activity at the time of injury. While there are conflicting studies outlining the risk of repetitive heading of the ball, I would emphasize that female athletes should learn proper heading and landing techniques to avoid head-to-head contact or contact with the head to the ground or goalpost to minimize the risk for traumatic brain injury.

Here is a more comprehensive list of injury statistics in NCAA women’s soccer. Again, this data was obtained from the NCAA between the 2004/05 and 2008/09 seasons. What do you think about these numbers? Are they surprising? Do you have any recommendations to decrease them and keep female soccer players healthy and on the field? Please share them in the Comments section below!

Overall injury rate: 7.3 per 1,000 athlete exposures (games and practices combined)

Injury rates in games: 14.4 injuries per 1,000 athlete exposures
Injury rates in practices: 5.0 injuries per 1,000 athlete exposures

Injury rates in preseason: 9.1 per 1,000 athlete exposures
Injury rates in-season: 6.8 injuries per 1,000 athlete exposures
Injury rates in postseason: 3.8 per 1,000 athlete exposures

Most common injury categories:
Ligament sprains (25.7%)
Muscle strains (21.5%)
Contusions (15.9%)
Concussions (9.2%)

Injury Percentage Breakdown:
Concussions: 9.2%
Head, face and neck: 13.3%
Upper limb: 5.6%
Torso and pelvis: 12.3%
Lower limb: 65.3%

Most common specific injuries:
Partial ligament sprains of the lateral ankle complex (12.8%)
Concussions (9.2%)
Partial quadriceps muscle strains (7.0%)
Partial hamstring muscle strains (4.8%)

Most common activity at the time of injury:
General play (34.2%)
Defending (11.0%)
Ball handing and dribbling (8.5%)
Conditioning (7.7%)
Goaltending (7.4%)
Heading (6.5%)

Most common activities during practice injuries:
Team drills (55.9%)
Conditioning (13.1%)
Individual drills (8.0%)

Contact with other players accounted for the majority of injuries.
The proportion of injuries that are concussions (9.2 percent) in NCAA women’s soccer players is nearly double the proportion seen in NCAA men’s soccer players (5.5 percent).
Surgery resulted from 2.4 percent of all injuries.

Source: NCAA Sports Injury Fact Sheets. NCAA Sport Injury fact sheets are produced by the Datalys Center for Sports Injury Research and Prevention in collaboration with the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and STOP Sports Injuries. The Datalys Center manages the NCAA Injury Surveillance Program.