Christian Pulisic's abdominal contusion after what became his game-winning goal kick in the recent USA vs. Iran World Cup 2022 match was tough to watch (especially on replay from multiple angles). Still, it isn't the most typical of injuries faced by most soccer players. Most players on teams still in the competition, but currently ruled out to play or being monitored closely to determine return-to-play fitness, are suffering from muscle or ligamentous injuries – often to the knee.
The most common types of injury to the knees of professional soccer players include collateral ligament sprains. The collateral ligaments connect the bones from the upper and lower parts of the leg to the outside of the knee joint. Second to collateral ligament sprains for injuries sustained in the fast-paced game of professional soccer are meniscus tears. The meniscus is a tough piece of cartilage that provides cushion and protection to the shin bone from the thigh bone. Though these two knee conditions make up most of those faced by pro soccer players, they certainly aren't the only ones. ACL tears or damage, patellar dislocations, and even Runner's knee can happen to our soccer stars during any match.
Soccer isn't the only sport where athletes can become susceptible to a knee injury – but it sure is one of the sports that most frequently deal with them. The knee is a significant powerhouse joint in the body, but it doesn't necessarily rotate on command. The rapid pivots, quick direction changes, sudden stops, and awkward landings make a ripe playing field for stress to the knee joint. When knee injuries occur in professionals (and the amateurs we love), the question often becomes – how long until they can get back out on the pitch? The answer to this question depends on the injury's severity, the type of treatment utilized to heal it, and the time the body takes to heal and recover. In some cases, that recovery time can take several days or weeks; in others – months or up to a year.
Having worked with professional athletes for much of my career, I can tell you none want to be sidelined due to injury – especially during the World Cup. We often say that the best knee injury is the one the player prevented from happening – outside of games and during training. Jump training, plyometrics, and the PEP Program are well-studied prevention strategies for soccer athletes. The great news is that our soccer pros today don't need much convincing, and most are doing some form of these prevention drills during their training. As a sideline physician during this year's World Cup, and many before it, I am honored to bear witness to these pillars of human strength and competitiveness – and I'll do everything in my power to ensure they can fulfill their dream of playing on the world’s brightest stage.