How to Prevent Knee Injuries in Soccer

How to prevent knee injuries
Photo by Jan-Joost Verhoef. Some rights reserved.

It almost seems if you play soccer long enough, you will hurt a knee.

A lot of players will be missing from the World Cup this year for that reason: Colombia’s star striker Radamel Facao, midfielder Kevin Strootman of the Netherlands, Ecuador’s Segundo Castillo, Germany’s Holger Badstuber and England’sTheo Walcott,  to name a few.

You don’t have to end up like them. You can prevent knee injuries in soccer and other sports by learning good form and by systematically strengthening the muscles that stabilize the joing.

In the 1990s, orthopedic surgeons like Bert Mandelbaum began working on this kind of exercise.

He had noticed that more and more soccer players were tearing their ACL (anterior cruciate ligaments) in their knees. The number is over 300,000 per year in the United States now. (These injuries are particularly common among women and girls.)

Programs to Prevent Knee Injuries in Soccer

“I was the national team physician for U.S. soccer and I felt it was my duty to put together a program,” Mandelbaum told me.

He and other experts spent hours looking at videotapes of athletes injuring their knees. They noticed that the athletes were often running or landing from jumps with their knees bent sideways.

With a physical therapist, Holly Silvers, Mandelbaum created Prevent Injury Enhance Performance. Others created similar programs, like Sportsmetrics, and Harmoknee. They have been shown to reduce knee injuries, and even improve performance in soccer and other sports, like basketball, volleyball and tennis.

Mandelbaum and Silvers went on to help develop a total injury prevention program for FIFA, the international governing body for soccer, called FIFA11+.  One study showed that it reduced overall injuries — not just knee injuries — by about half in U.S. college soccer players.

The experts are debating which program is best, but the programs all share some common elements: they strengthen muscles, train nerves and teach you how to move. Some make you more flexible as well.

Watch Your Form

The first step is to check out your form while warming up.  First jog slowly a dozen yards (or meters).

  • Watch to make sure your hip, knee and ankle are in a straight line.
  • Don’t let your knee cave in or your feet whip out to the side.
  • Don’t let your toes point toward each other.
  • You may also want to learn to strike the ground with the front of your foot, but it’s important to build up your calf strength first.

Next shuttle sideways to the right for about the same distance. Bend slightly at the knees and hips. Leading with your right foot, push off with the left. Then reverse directions, shuttling to the left.

Run backwards, keeping your knee bent and landing on the ball of the foot.

In this video, former U.S. national midfielder Cobi Jones demonstrates proper backward and forward running form:

You’re not done yet! We’ve talked about how to prevent knee injuries in soccer with good form. In my next post, I’ll move on to strengthening exercises.