“Soccer players and other young athletes have a fairly high incidence of injuries, especially involving the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, a ligament critical for knee stability,” explained Darin Padua, associate professor of exercise and sport science in the University of North Carolina College of Arts and Sciences. “For some reason, girls seem to be at greater risk of ACL injuries. You hear about a lot of these injuries in basketball, too.”
The researchers, who were all part of the exercise and sport science department of UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, studied 173 youth athletes, aged 10-17, on 27 soccer teams in Durham and Chapel Hill, N.C. The scientists videotaped the players before and after a new warm-up exercise was introduced, and carefully analyzed the videotape to see how the youths changed their jumping, landing and other moves on the field.
The results indicated that players with the poorest quality of movement benefited most from the warm-ups. The researchers also wanted to test which was better: a general, “one-size-fits-all” warm-up program or individual exercises tailored to each player. General and individual exercises were found to be equally helpful, according to Padua.
The warm-ups were designed to enhance the youths’ flexibility, balance and strength – and also their foot planting, jumping and cutting skills. It was previously known that some 70 percent of ACL injuries result from such non-contact movements.
The exercises, a 10-12-minute series of lunges, hops, jumps, balances and stretches, was substituted for the usual pregame jogging and stretching routine. The warm-ups are described at www.unc.edu/sportmedlab.
The scientists also found that the study’s older children responded better to the new exercises than did the younger ones.
“That’s a take-away from this study,” Padua said. “The younger kids may need to be trained differently. Things that are successful in older populations may not work in younger children.”