Updated: Jul 14
1. Lateral Ankle Sprain
The most common ankle injury in football/soccer is a lateral ankle sprain. A sprain (with a “p”, as opposed to a strain) refers to the stretching, damage, or rupture of a ligament. Ligaments are passive structures that connect one bone to another bone and are therefore usually found crossing joints. So whenever you hear someone sprained their ankle, this means they damaged the ligaments somewhere around the ankle joint. One more thing, lateral refers to the side away from the mid-line of the body, so in this case, lateral means the outside of the ankle, while medial would refer to the inside of the ankle. So why are lateral ankle sprains the most common? While the lateral sides of our ankles are strongly reinforced by numerous ligaments, it is also the most prone to being stretched. This is your typical rolled ankle. For example, let’s say you slip off a sidewalk or curb and roll your ankle. As the foot rolls underneath your body, you are stretching the outside of the ankle, effectively acting to separate the bones on the outside of the foot and ankle. As these bones begin to separate beyond their normal capabilities, the ligaments connecting those bones are stretched and potentially damaged.
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2. Medial Ankle Sprain
Medial ankle sprains are less common simply due to the fact that it’s more difficult to naturally roll your ankle in that direction. Therefore, a medial ankle sprain would likely require an external force acting on the outside of your ankle, or even just a really awkward fall or accident. This would require a combination of eversion, which is rotating your toes away from the midline of your body (e.g. 2 o’clock instead of 12 o’clock), and dorsiflexion, which is bringing your toes up towards your leg. If you perform this movement, it may seem a bit more clear as to why it is less common for this injury to occur. So when can this be a common injury in football/soccer? Medial ankle sprains are usually contact injuries, whereby another object impacts you, or you impact the object, which then pushed your ankle into an undesirable position. Let’s take a slide tackle as an example. If you plant your foot and another player aggressively slide tackles into your feet, and the bottom of their foot makes direct and forcible contact with the outside of your ankle, this could definitely result in a medial ankle sprain.
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3. High Ankle Sprains
You may have heard of a high ankle sprain before, and as the name suggests, this occurs higher up on the ankle. It’s actually fairly interesting, although painful, and very debilitating if you’re a victim of this injury. The ankle ligaments connect the tibia to the fibula, so the foot is somewhat removed, yet the foot plays a significant roll in the development of the injury. High ankle sprains are usually a result of excessive torsion or rotation. You see it a lot in high-impact sports or contact sports, such as hockey and football. A common mechanism of injury, in this case, is having a foot planted on the ground while your body twists and bends backwards. For example, in football, a player may be tackled in a way where they are being pulled backwards with respect to their forward progress, but their foot doesn’t slide out from the turf and they end up falling back on top of it. Rehabilitation Guide
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4. Tibia And Fibula Fractures
Tibia and fibula fractures are serious injuries that often require surgery. These types of injuries usually aren’t isolated, but instead, occur along with other injuries as well. For example, it’s fairly common for someone who broke their ankle to also have a high ankle sprain. While these injuries can occur without contact, they usually require some form of external force contacting the ankle, often combined with an inability to move the ankle into a position that can accommodate these forces. The only broken tibia without a high ankle sprain that I have seen in soccer actually occurred in a fun recreational lunch-time game with co-workers. One of the players went to kick the ball at the same time the defender was trying to clear it and their legs connected, causing a clean break through the kicker’s tibia. Rehabilitation Guide
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5. Ankle Stress Fractures
Stress fractures to bones in the foot and leg are somewhat common in sports that involve running, especially those that involve LOTS of running. Stress fractures are essentially tiny fractures that vary in length, but nevertheless are indicators of damage to the bone. Moreover, stress fractures can be quite painful and can limit your ability to run or even walk on that foot. Even though it’s not that serious of an injury, stress fractures can be quite problematic, as they are often difficult to diagnose right off the bat. Sometimes an X-ray won’t even pick it up, but that doesn’t mean the bone is damaged, it just means that the bone is likely in the healing phase already. Usually, stress fractures can be healed with rest, but may also require immobilization, bracing, and some specific exercises to strengthen the muscles around the area. So while it isn’t a devastating injury, stress fractures are very frustrating injuries, as they can keep you out of the game for a long time. Rehabilitation Guide
Lastly, some studies suggest that female soccer players may be more susceptible to stress fractures than their male counterparts. This is most likely due to hormonal fluctuations resulting from altered menstrual cycles, or related issues. To learn more about the relationship between the menstrual cycle, eating habits, and bone health, please refer to thefemaleathletetriad.org.
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6. Achilles Tendonitis
Tendonitis is a chronic injury in that it usually takes a while to develop, and it also takes a while to heal, so it can be a really nagging injury. Tendonitis refers to inflammation of the tendon and causes and affected tendons can vary. In soccer, tendonitis in the Achilles tendon can develop from constant stops and starts during running, especially if you irritated or damaged the tendon in the past. As scar tissue develops, it makes the movement of the tendon less smooth over bone and other structures, which further damages and irritates the tendon, worsening the condition. Tendonitis can also occur from repetitive kicking motions, but this is usually in other tendons, not the Achilles tendon.
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7. Plantar Fasciitis
Plantar fasciitis is somewhat similar to tendonitis but involves a completely different structure. The plantar fascia is a thick, strong, tendinous structure that runs along the bottom of your foot from your heel to the balls of your feet and toes. If the plantar fascia becomes stretched or irritated over time, it can become inflamed and damaged to the extent that it causes significant pain and inability to run. Plantar fasciitis is very common in athletes participating in sports that require lots of running your bouncing on the feet. While there isn’t one set way to develop plantar fasciitis, anything that places a higher amount of undue stress on the plantar fascia can lead to the condition. For example, individuals with high arches, weak or stiff lower leg muscles, or playing on a surface that places more stress on the bottoms of the feet, can all be things to predispose one to plantar fasciitis.
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