Today, soccer is known as the most popular sport across the globe. According to the global soccer organization FIFA, there are currently 265 million active participants in some form of soccer. This amount accounts for approximately 4% of the global population. Even within the United States, where sports such as football, basketball and baseball have reigned supreme in popularity and participation for decades, soccer is gaining ground. In a 2018 Galloup poll, soccer was cited as the second most popular spectator sport within individuals aged 18-34. Additionally, the amount of youth soccer players in America numbers approximately 2.3 million participants. With such a large amount of participants around the globe, including some at a very elite level, significant injuries are bound to occur. Due to the explosive nature of the sport, one of the most common and troubling injuries is a knee injury. One of the most common forms of a knee injury is when the anterior cruciate ligament or ACL is torn. This ligament is crucial to the structural support of the knee. Studies indicate that between 29% and 58% of all injuries sustained in soccer are of the non-contact variety such as an ACL rupture. When an ACL must be repaired, athletes will require 6-9 months in order to make a full recovery and return to full activity and competition. For athletes competing on elite levels such as collegiate or professionally, an ACL tear can prove to be especially traumatic. There are many approaches when it comes to the prevention of these injuries, one of the most popular as of late is a balance training referred to as “proprioceptive training.”
Proprioceptive training, through the use of balance exercises such as standing on one foot while on an unsteady surface, teaches the body to control the position of a joint, such as the knee. The use of balance training allows the body to learn how to detect an outside stimulus such as a rapid change of direction or external force, both common in ACL tears. Once the body detects this outside stimulus, the brain will notify the body to react appropriately. Once again, by training athletes’ bodies and brains to detect these rapid changes, their proprioceptive system will become finer tuned and equipped to handle stress. By training this system that helps control weak points within our bodies, we can actually teach our joints to anticipate an external force that could cause a traumatic injury, such as an ACL tear. Research indicates that soccer players, especially at young ages who engage in regular balance training routines are much less likely to experience a knee injury such as an ACL tear. Additionally, in the event that an injury has been sustained, balance training is key to allowing the athletes to return to normal activity.
Overall, it appears that balance training is an extremely effective approach to decreasing the amount of ACL tears that are sustained by soccer players. By encouraging athletes and coaches to partake in this particular programming, players are much less likely to suffer a potentially career ending setback.