It’s Not Apocryphal It’s Apophysitis! Common Foot Injuries in Soccer Kids
Posted by Jenn F. on Tuesday, December 11th, 2012
I started playing soccer when I was four years old. All I knew was that I was supposed to kick the ball into the goal. Since that’s what all of the other kids knew too, we spent practices and games chasing the ball around the field en masse, a gaggle of four-year-olds skittering to and fro. It must have been hilarious to watch: an amorphous blob of little children, screeching and laughing and kicking our little hearts out. But, what started as a ridiculous Wednesday afternoon playtime soon became a strangely competitive little kid gauntlet. See, I’m from one of those towns where girls’ soccer is the adults’ proxy for success in life. We had try-outs and traveling teams, ringer coaches and televised games. By 9 I was traveling all over the state, playing for trophies in front of newspaper reporters.
I had dreams of Olympic glory, taking the field in 2012 serenaded by Paul McCartney, and deluged by parachute jumpers flying the Union Jack amidst bold pyrotechnics. So, I played all year round: traveling teams in the fall, town teams in the spring, indoor in the winter, and intensive training camp in the summer. It may come as no big surprise, then, that I had my fair share of injuries.
Sprained ankles, and stress fractures are shockingly common. When you’re wearing cleats, your feet tend to stay put while your body moves. This is a recipe for disaster ankle-wise (and knee and hip-wise too, for that matter). The first line of defense for foot and ankle trauma is RICE: rest, ice, compression, elevation. If the pain is severe and prevents the child from weight bearing, visit The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900). Sometimes pain from a sprain can mask pain from a fracture. Stress fractures are incredibly common in child soccer players. All that pounding, pivoting, and kicking can take a toll on delicate growing foot bones. A good rule of thumb: if the pain persists, visit a podiatrist. These issues may not be easily avoided but you can protect your child with:
- High-quality cleats with lateral support.
- Ankle braces or tape to add stability.
- An easy fitness regimen that gets the child in shape slowly over several weeks. Pre-season soccer—the two weeks before school when we’d all run ourselves into the ground for six hours a day—was a major cause of stress fractures in unprepared kids.
Ingrown toenails, blackened toenails, and turf toe are also common. Every soccer season, I’d lose my big toenail. Repetitive trauma from kicking, getting stomped on, and shoes that were perpetually too small all contributed (kids’ feet grow fast: one pair of cleats may not be enough to get through a single season). The constant springing of the poised athlete, propelling herself forward off of the balls of her feet, can cause turf toe, a sprain of the first metatarsophalangeal joint (where the big toe meets the foot). Ingrown toenails, when the toenail grows down into the toe pad instead of outward, are ubiquitous and painful. Protect tiny toes by:
- Checking your child’s shoes regularly to make sure they fit properly.
- Trim toenails straight across (when you trim nails too close to the quick, they’re more likely to grow into the toe pad).
- Add padding to the toe of your child’s cleats to protect the big toe and toenail.
Calcaneal Apophysitis or Sever’s Disease, a.k.a. heel pain. This is a very common soccer injury, especially around age ten when the bones in the growth plate behind the heel are growing quickly. Kids will grow out of this condition eventually but in the meantime try:
- Stretching: tight calf muscles can aggravate this condition.
- Heel lifts and orthotics can help keep the heel in place, but these will require a visit to the podiatrist.
If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. Geldwert, Dr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.