Injury Prevention on the Roster as Youth Soccer Season Heats Up: Top Sports Orthopaedic Surgeon Dr. Kevin Plancher on Avoiding, Treating Kids' Soccer Injuries

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Through proper coaching and training, youth soccer participants can learn to protect themselves from injury, and to recognize an injury when it does occur.

Youth soccer is one of America's most popular team sport, with millions of kids in the U.S. participating in soccer programs each year. While soccer is considered far safer than contact sports like football, injuries on the soccer field still number more than 100,000 each year and account for 75,000 emergency room visits annually. The good news is that simple preventive strategies can help keep kids injury free on the soccer field this season - and when injuries do occur, there are effective techniques to help children recover more quickly and completely.

"Nearly half of all youth soccer injuries happen to adolescents between the ages of 10 and 14, a time period when kids begin to develop more strength but are still struggling with body control," explains Dr. Kevin Plancher, MD, a leading orthopaedic surgeon in the NY metro area and an official surgeon of the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Team. "Concurrently, this age group might also begin to take more physical risks on the playing field, but tend to downplay the need for comprehensive preparations before practice or competition," he notes, adding, "Through proper coaching and training, youth soccer participants can learn to protect themselves from injury, and to recognize an injury when it does occur."

AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION: Pre-season training and pre-game warmups
Dr. Plancher stresses that two major strategies - training and conditioning, along with pre-competition and practice warm-ups - can go a long way toward keeping young players injury-free. "Most injuries to soccer players over the age of five involve the lower extremities," he points out. "Beginning a preseason strengthening and conditioning program can help these players increase strength and flexibility in the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the hips, legs, knees and ankles, reducing the risk of injury once competition begins."

Dr. Plancher recommends that teams hire a certified athletic trainer when possible to work with young athletes, or to train coaches on tactics aimed at reducing the risk of injuries on the field. "Sports medicine research confirms the importance of training, and more specifically, the types of exercises that are appropriate - and inappropriate - for developing children and adolescents," Dr. Plancher advises

Certified trainers work with teams to teach proper running and pivoting techniques to reduce the risk of knee injuries such as ACL and meniscus tears - which are on the rise among young athletes. At Plancher Orthopaedics, trainer Hunter Greene, MS, ATC/L, OTC, works with local middle school, high school and college teams. Trainers like Hunter can work with young athletes to help them avoid overuse injuries, which occur when children engage in a single repetitive motion over a long time period that puts stress on a muscle, ligament, tendon or joint. In soccer, the ankles and knees are most prone to these types of injuries, and athletic trainers provide conditioning to help children avoid them. "Soccer is a game of constant movement," Dr. Plancher points out, "And so young athletes need to learn the proper techniques to protect their joints and ligaments during long stretches of running and physical exertion."

Finally, coaches and athletic trainers should ensure that youth players warm up adequately before engaging in full competition or practice. Dr. Plancher suggests that warm-ups consist of several minutes of light cardiovascular exercise such as jogging around the field, followed by 10-15 minutes of stretching the core muscles that will be taxed during practice or game play.

IN CASE OF INJURY: Recognizing and RICE-ing a child's soccer injury
When injuries do occur, Dr. Plancher notes, the most important strategy to reduce its impact and ensure a positive and timely recovery is recognition. "In game situations, particularly among young players, there is frequently a temptation to 'shake off' or play through an injury," Dr. Plancher points out. "However, tendon and ligament injuries can worsen with additional activity, and so it is important that an injured child be removed from play until a certified athletic trainer or a physician can evaluate the injury." Dr. Plancher suggests that any young athlete who experiences swelling or hears a tearing or popping sound at the site of the injury, or has difficulty bearing weight in the injured area, should refrain from play. "The RICE technique - rest, ice, compression and elevation - should be applied immediately, and if the symptoms persist or worsen after several hours, the child should be taken to an emergency room or a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon," he advises.

"Soccer can be one of the safest and most enjoyable sports for young athletes to participate in," Dr. Plancher concludes. "As with any sport, soccer is most enjoyable when the players are conditioned and prepared to play in ways that help them reduce their risk of painful injuries that sideline them from the game."

Kevin D. Plancher, M.D., M.S., F.A.C.S., F.A.A.O.S, is a leading orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine expert with treatment in knee, shoulder, elbow and hand injuries. Dr. Plancher is an Associate Clinical Professor in Orthopaedics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in NY. He is on the Editorial Review Board of the Journal of American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

A graduate of Georgetown University School of Medicine, Dr. Plancher received an M.S. in Physiology and an M.D. from their school of medicine (cum laude). He did his residency at Harvard's combined Orthopaedic program and a Fellowship at the Steadman-Hawkins clinic in Vail, Colorado where he studied shoulder and knee reconstruction. Dr. Plancher continued his relationship with the Clinic for the next six years as a Consultant. Dr. Plancher has been a team physician for over 15 athletic teams, including high school, college and national championship teams. Dr. Plancher is currently the head team physician for Manhattanville College. Dr. Plancher is an attending physician at Beth Israel Hospital in New York City and The Stamford Hospital in Stamford, CT and has offices in Manhattan and Greenwich, Connecticut.

Dr. Plancher lectures extensively domestically and internationally on issues related to Orthopaedic procedures and injury management. During 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008, Dr. Plancher was named among the Top Doctors in the New York Metro area and was the New York State Representative for the Council of Delegates to the American Academy of Orthopaedic surgeons. In 2007 Dr. Plancher was named America's Top Doctor in Sports Medicine. For the past six years Dr. Plancher has received the Order of Merit (Magnum Cum Laude) for distinguished Philanthropy in the Advancement of Orthopaedic Surgery by the Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation. In 2001, he founded "The Orthopaedic Foundation for Active Lifestyles", a non-profit foundation focused on maintaining and enhancing the physical well-being of active individuals through the development and promotion of research and supporting technologies.


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