As the most popular sport in the world, soccer doesn’t come without its share of injuries. Muscle strains to the leg are a common occurrence and can become quite a nuisance for the soccer player of any age who needs to be able to perform sudden movements and changes of direction.
Muscle strains occur from excessive running (back of upper thigh) or high velocity kicks (front of upper thigh) or change of direction (inside of upper thigh). It has been hypothesized that muscle strains can occur as a result of inadequate warm-up or stretching prior to activity.
To date, no one protocol exists to describe the perfect pre-event stretching routine. Various sources suggest a variety in the amount of sets and repetitions that one should perform for any particular stretch. Additionally, there is no consensus as to the amount of time in seconds that a person should maintain a stretch on a muscle in an effort to provide for adequate muscle flexibility and elongation in preparation for activity. Some experts still debate as to whether static (keeping the muscle on a stretch for a period of time) or dynamic (ballistic or bouncing-type stretching) are better for muscle preparation. There are arguments to be made that support both approaches.
Despite the lack of evidence to support the ideal stretching routine, the stretching of muscles prior to playing soccer, specifically for the leg, has become somewhat of a cultural tradition. All coaches and players seem to embrace the importance of warming up and stretching the quadriceps, hamstrings, and groin muscles before playing soccer. These are the most commonly injured muscles, perhaps being damaged as a result of a sudden unexpected burst of movement or change of direction that pulls the muscle or stretches it beyond its capability at that given moment. The outcome is usually a tear in the muscle fibers. A muscle tear is the same thing as a muscle strain – and oftentimes these terms are misinterpreted by layperson to mean that a muscle tear is in fact more severe that a muscle strain. In some cases, these tears can be small in nature, but still prevent one from performing at optimal levels for a period of days to even weeks. Returning to play too soon following a minor muscle strain or tear can in fact worsen the injury, further lengthening the eventual return to play.
Most of us in the sports safety business do agree that muscles that are “warmed-up” prior to activity tend to respond better to strains placed on them through sudden movements and changes of directions in a sport such as soccer. It is believed that the best way to warm-up a muscle is actually not through stretching, but actually through light activity itself, such as jogging. A 3-5 minute light job around the field or even marching in place can elevate the core body temperature, thus actually warming up every muscle in the body at one time. This activity can also be done as a group, becoming incorporated into a team warm-up activity prior to each practice and game.
Get advice from your local sports medicine expert about what he or she feels is the best warm-up and stretching routine for soccer players of your age interest. Regardless of what routine you choose, it appears as though some routine is better than no warm-up or stretching at all.