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11 Of The Most Common Soccer Injuries

11 Of The Most Common Soccer Injuries

The 2023 Women's World Cup has been full of incredible action, from Japan smashing a much-fancied Spain side to top Group C to Sweden's dramatic Last 16 penalty shootout victory over holders USA. However, the competition has also been missing some huge global stars — Leah Williamson, Beth Mead, Vivanne Miedema, Christen Press, Marie-Antoinette Katoto — all of whom are out of action with an ACL injury.

In recent months, debates surrounding the worrying prevalence of Anterior Cruciate Ligament injuries in women's football have intensified, spurred on by the fact that 25-30 players are missing the WWC due to this serious injury. Experts are ramping up the research and trying to find solutions to what has been described by many as an 'epidemic' in the sport.

But what exactly does it mean to get an ACL injury? And what are the other main threats to fitness faced by professional footballers? In this article, we'll be answering those questions by providing you with a list of the most common soccer injuries.

Soccer Injuries: The Two Main Types

Generally speaking, most common soccer injuries can be divided into two camps: acute or accumulative.

Acute injuries can be pinned down to a specific event or time; they are traumatic, often caused by a fall, a heavy blow, or a collision between players.

On the other hand, accumulative injuries come from a repetitive stress on a particular muscle, joint or connective tissue. In these injuries, that repeated strain can lead to progressively worsening aches, pains, and physical impairment, cumulatively building up to impact a player's ability to perform.

We'll cover both acute and accumulative issues in this list of the most common soccer injuries, where we'll start by exploring some of the more serious injuries out there, before taking you through the more everyday problems.

11 Of The Most Common Soccer Injuries

Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL)

The ACL is arguably professional soccer's most dreaded injury. It's also the most common knee injury among soccer players, which partly explains the levels of concern. An ACL injury is a partial or complete tear, a sprain or a detachment from the bone of the anterior cruciate ligament, a band of tissue which connects your thigh bone and shin bone.

ACL injuries can be caused by a number of things including a twisted knee when a player's foot is on the ground, a quick change of direction or an overextension of the knee joint. Impacting the front of the knee, it's a particularly damaging knock because ligaments are less retractable than muscles or tendons, which increases their vulnerability.

When an ACL injury occurs, you can often hear a loud "popping" sound. The knee might feel unstable or give way, becoming difficult to put weight on. Then, within 24 hours, swelling and pain will develop, and you'll lose your range of motion along the joint line. When a player experiences an ACL injury, they can expect to be out of action for roughly six to nine months.

Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL)

The cruciate ligaments form a cross within the knee, running in different directions from the thigh to the shin bone. While ACL injuries occur at the front of the knee, the Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL) can be found at the back of the knee, where your thigh bone is connected to the back of your shin bone.

Generally speaking, the force needed to injure your PCL is more powerful than for the ACL; common instances that could cause a PCL problem might be a fall forward onto a bent knee, or a direct blow to the knee from a collision with another player. That being said, it's not as immediately obvious when you get this type of knock.

The tell tale signs are swelling and reduced motion, and it's common that if not noticed at first, soreness will increase as time passes. All injuries to the knee are diagnosed according to a three-rung scale, with Grade 1 being a Mild Sprain, Grade 2 a Partial Tear, and Grade 3 a Complete Tear.


Many soccer players who suffer a knee ligament injury will also experience injuries to other parts of the knee, the most common of which is probably the meniscus tear.

The meniscus is a C-shaped piece of cartilage that cushions the space between the thigh bone (femur) and the shin bone (tibia), and meniscus tears usually occur when you twist your knee or quickly pivot or decelerate during a match or training session.

This will cause pain and tenderness, and stiffness or swelling around the knee, which may take a few hours or even days to occur. Knee cartilage damage will commonly require around three to six months recovery time.

Ankle Sprain

Sprained ankles happen when ligaments surrounding the ankle joint are stretched or torn, and they're a fairly regular occurrence in football. Lateral ankle sprains (which happen outside of the ankle, commonly when a player kicks the ball with the top of their foot) are the most common type of ankle injury in soccer.

Meanwhile, a medial ankle sprain (which happens inside of the ankle) can crop up when the toes are turned out while the foot is flexed upward.

When a player sprains their ankle, they should rest it for at least 24-48 hours without bearing any weight, and refrain from pushing themselves too hard, as it could delay recovery. As the strength of the ankle starts to return following a sprain, light stretching and exercises designed to gradually build up the muscle are a key part of recovery.

Achilles Tendonitis

If your achilles hurt when you play football, it's highly possible you've got achilles tendonitis. This is a chronic injury often caused by overuse, inadequate recovery periods, or the performance of repetitive or sudden movements over time. Causing a pain in the back of the ankle, achilles tendonitis requires a coordinated rehabilitation programme and can often keep players on the sidelines for three to six months. A related issue that's also commonly seen in football is Achilles Tendon Rupture.

Calf Muscle Pull

The calf is one of the most commonly injured parts of the body in soccer. Technically speaking, the two muscles referred to as the calves (located at the back of the lower leg) are the gastrocnemius and the soleus. Most frequently, it's the middle of the gastrocnemius that gets injured, as players strain the superficial part of the muscle, towards the skin, just below the knee.

Often, the cause of a calf muscle strain will be a player attempting to quickly reach the ball, in a kind of explosive muscle-straining movement. When this kind of injury occurs, the player isn't likely to be out of action for a long time, with FitToPlay judging that "in about 90% of cases, the athlete is back in full training within 28 days." However, there is a high risk of re-injury with calf problems, so a comprehensive rehabilitation process is essential.


Professional football's rules around concussion have been a hot topic recently, with incidents such as the head injury suffered by Raul Gimenez for Wolves during the 2020-21 season causing criticism of the sport's fairly reductive approach to dealing with concussion compared to other contact sports.

Head clashes on a football pitch can be extremely dangerous, and for that reason they are treated in a unique way, with referees instructed to immediately stop play when a head injury occurs.

It can be difficult to know at first whether concussion has been suffered. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes a concussion as "a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth."

While prognosis can vary massively, the FA (which proposes an 'If in doubt, sit them out' policy) advises that following a concussion, players should undergo a period of physical and mental rest for at least 24 hours, after which various assessments and neuro-physiological tests will be carried out to assess the level of damage.

Groin Pull

The groin is a commonly injured part of the body in football, with most groin injuries slotting into one of three categories: adductor muscle strain, tendon injury, or osteitis pubis. Adductor muscle strain is an acute injury, specifically a muscle tear or rupture to any one of the five adductor muscles, often caused by an overstretched sliding tackle or a sudden change in direction. Tendon injuries, on the other hand, are chronic overuse injuries to an adductor tendon, developed thanks to overloads, poor technique or build-up following a previous injury. 

Finally, osteitis pubis refers to instability around the pelvis, also an overuse injury caused by repeated trauma and associated with heavy pelvic loads. Just like with knee injuries, groin pulls are ranked via a Grade 1-3 scale, with treatment and absence time varying accordingly.


The term "hamstring' refers to the group of 3 muscles that run along the back of your thigh, from your hip to just below your knee. Hamstring injuries involving these three muscles are pretty common in football (according to reports, approximately 1 in 5 professional footballers suffer a hamstring injury in a full season), and they can range from minor strains to total ruptures.

A severe hamstring injury will generally keep a player out for three months maximum, and a light hamstring strain can see a player back out on the field within 8-10 days. In order to avoid any degree of injury to this part of the leg, regular hamstring stretching should be an essential part of any footballer's training schedule.

Runner's Knee

Runner's knee is a condition that slots firmly into the 'accumulative' category we identified earlier on; used to describe pain in and around the patella (better known as the kneecap), it's common in runners but is also seen in soccer. Runner's knee occurs when the cartilage under the kneecap is damaged, often due to overuse, a misalignment in the knee or strained tendons.

Involving swelling and pain, and often leading to a grinding or 'popping' sensation during running, this injury can be caused by weakened thigh muscles, a general knee injury or flat feet, and if a footballer suffers from it, knee support, pressure, ice packs, and resting are all part of the recuperation process.

Shin Splints

A common soccer injury with symptoms including a dull ache in the shin, pain in the inside of the shinbone, and numbness or weakness in the feet, shin splints are an inflammatory condition experienced in the front of the lower leg. Also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, shin splints occur in the outer lining of the tibia (shinbone) and can be extremely painful and uncomfortable.

Factors like inappropriate footwear can have an impact, but normally shin splints are a result of overtraining, so treatment will hinge on the RICE method: rest, ice, compression, elevation. Given that professional footballers are blessed with the most talented and knowledgeable medical experts around, they can rely on a well-structured treatment programme here.

How To Prevent Injuries In Soccer

While most professional and amateur football players are likely to experience at least one moderate injury during their careers, there are several things that can be done to reduce the chances of this happening. Here are a few important points:

  • Warm up for at least 30 minutes before each match, with a focus on stretching out the major footballing muscles: hamstrings, hips, groins, quadriceps, and achilles tendons.

  • Give yourself proper recovery time after sessions and matches, particularly if you feel a knock. Rushing back is never a good idea.

  • Wear appropriate gear such as well-fitting, good-quality football boots and shin pads for protection.

  • Check out the playing field before entering and ensure that there aren't any potential hazards (holes, dodgy turf, puddles, stones, debris etc.)

  • Maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle, and you'll be less likely to pick up a soccer injury.

If you want to find out more about maintaining fitness in football, check out our guide to the role of the beep test in soccer.