Why Knee/ACL Injuries Are so Common in Soccer

If you’ve played soccer competitively then you’ll know how the sport can put strains on your legs, especially your knees.

With all the sudden directional changes, rapid pivoting, and constant accelerating and decelerating, soccer places a significant stress on the knees. This makes knee injuries during soccer a common occurrence.

While knee injuries cannot be completely prevented, it is important to understand how soccer affects the knees and what steps can be taken to prevent and recover from ACL injuries.

5 Common Knee Injuries in Soccer

1. ACL Injuries

ACL injuries are one of the most common injuries in soccer, especially among female players. ACL injuries can take a player off the field for a year or even longer in some cases.

The Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) connects the thigh bone to the shin bone. It plays a key role in stabilising the knee, especially when changing direction or jumping.

Partial or complete ACL tears can happen if a player lands awkwardly, gets hit by another player, or makes a sudden change of direction.

Potential risk factors for an ACL injury during soccer include:

  • Direct contact with the knee
  • Non-contact movements such as awkward turns or sudden stops, single-leg cuts, or landings
  • Cutting to track a player from the opposing team
  • Reaching out, especially with a side-stop motion, to block an opponent from the ball (known as defensive tackling)

2. Ligament Knee Injuries

Collateral ligaments, such as the fibular collateral ligament, are also at risk of injury during soccer. If a player gets hit inside the knee, it can cause excess pressure on the outside of the knee. This pressure on the outer portion of the knee can cause a collateral ligament tear.

3. MCL Tears

The MCL keeps the tibia (shin bone) in place. It can be injured when too much stress or pressure is placed on the outer portion of the knee. This can lead to a complete tear, partial tear, or a stretched ligament.

4. Meniscus Tears

Soccer players are also at risk of a meniscus tear, the portion of the knee that serves as a cushion. This crucial structure is essential to long-term joint health and requires immediate assessment and treatment if injured.

5. Kneecap Dislocations

As with ACL injuries, kneecap dislocations occur more often in female soccer players. With kneecap dislocations, it is crucial to get the kneecap back into position as soon as possible to prevent cartilage damage. A proper sports rehabilitation program is also imperative to reduce the risk of dislocating the kneecap again.

If a player is running on the pitch and changes direction quickly, the knee does not readily rotate, so tears can occur.

The ACL Injury

Most ACL tears occur from non-contact motions, such as when a player twists suddenly without enough muscle strength to properly counteract the twisting. Whether a player steps in a hole or lands awkwardly, the knee can slip out and cause an ACL tear.

When this happens, a player will often report feeling a “pop”. This sensation is due to the tibia slipping forward and contacting the front part of the femur on the outer knee. In the hours following an ACL tear, the knee may swell and fill with blood. Players often report their knee feeling “wobbly” after an ACL tear.

Why ACL Injuries Are Common in Soccer

Soccer involves patterns of movement that place frequent stress on the knee. The ACL is at particular risk in soccer due to three main factors:

  • Rapid Changes in Direction — The high-velocity directional changes, rotational movements, awkward landings, repetitive movements, and pivots in soccer, along with astroturf, place a high amount of stress on the knee. This rapid force and velocity beyond what the knee is used to can lead to an ACL injury or tear.
  • Contact with other Players — If contact is made between players, an outside force or impact to the knee can lead to ACL injuries.
  • Player Anatomy – A player’s anatomy can be an indicator of potential injury. Gender also plays a significant role in knee injuries in soccer. For instance, females have different hip and knee alignments. The femoral notch, which houses the ACL, is narrower in females. This means if the femur or knee twists around the tibia, the bone can impinge upon the ACL and cause injury.

Do I Need Surgery After an ACL Injury in Soccer?

If you experience a knee injury, an early and accurate diagnosis is key to the recovery process. Most soccer players who tear their ACL require surgical repair and at least six months or more to recover.

If you do require ACL surgery, Lilyfield Physio offers personalised post-operative rehabilitation to help you recover and get moving and playing again as quickly and safely as possible.

From the first days after your surgery to your complete return to function, our physiotherapists develop rehabilitation programs tailored to your unique anatomy, goals, and needs.

I’ve Torn My ACL Playing Soccer, How Long Until I Can Play Again?

If you tear your ACL in soccer, your recovery time will depend on the severity of the injury, if you require surgery and the quality of your rehabilitation program. Typically, recovery from an ACL injury takes between six months and a year.

Can I Prevent Knee Injuries in Soccer?

While it is impossible to completely prevent knee injuries in soccer, the right steps can help decrease the risk of common soccer injuries such as ACL tears.

Proper training and sports physiotherapy can strengthen the leg muscles, improve balance, and pinpoint weak areas.

Sports physio can help players work on proper techniques for footwork, landing, and jumping. Along with helping to decrease the risk of initial injury, a sports rehabilitation program can help a player recover faster after an ACL injury.

Are You Looking for Knee Pain Treatment?

If you’ve experienced a knee injury playing soccer or are looking to strengthen your knees to reduce your risk of injury in soccer, physiotherapy can help. The sooner you begin a physiotherapy program after an injury, the sooner you can be back to doing what you love.

With our extensive training and deep understanding of the musculoskeletal system, we can develop an exercise rehabilitation program to help you:

  • Strengthen your knees and the surrounding muscles and ligaments
  • Reduce pain and inflammation
  • Address any poor biomechanics of your knees and lower limbs
  • Build muscle strength and get back on track
  • Prevent further injury
  • Reduce the chance of re-injury

How Can Sports Physio Help Prevent and Heal Knee Injuries?

Using hands-on treatments such as myofascial release and deep tissue massage, we focus on joint mobilisation, correcting muscle imbalances, and addressing movement restrictions.

Our physiotherapists compile evidence-based exercise routines customised to your needs and goals. We are committed to keeping you on the field, performing at your best, and competing in the sport you love. If you’ve injured your knee, we’re here to help you get back out on the field safely and as soon as possible. Contact us today with any questions or to set up a consultation.

Ready to start moving again?