To kick off the start of the Major League Soccer (MLS) season, Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) will be posting its first-ever soccer blog series with Dr. Williams and other HSS experts. Read our previous installments with Dr. Riley Williams and Dr. Shetty here.
Imagine running a distance of 8-12 miles at a moderate to high intensity in 90 minutes, while playing a game where even a single play could be the difference between winning and losing for your team. This is the level of exercise and athletic ability required of soccer players. So it is no surprise that this aerobic and anaerobic workload places a high demand on a player’s musculoskeletal, cardiac, and central nervous systems. For this reason, recovery is extremely important for a player following a soccer match so that performance can be maximized in future matches, risk of injury is reduced, and the overall accumulative fatigue experienced throughout a soccer season can be managed.
Physical therapists at HSS work closely with athletic training staff to address the immediate needs of a player after a match, including:
- Managing musculoskeletal injuries, like strains, sprains and contusions;
- Using icing and compression techniques to reduce pain and swelling, and encourage muscle recovery;
- Using joint mobilization techniques and manual and massage therapy to restore full range of motion before a player returns to high-level training.
Recovery can include aquatic exercise, light aerobic exercise, regenerative yoga or other low-impact activities to increase circulation and decrease muscle soreness. Recovery typically focuses on three main areas: hydration, nutrition, and rest.
Hydration: It is important to ensure that players adequately replenish fluid and electrolytes that were depleted during a match. Although the amount of fluids required for recovery varies from player to player, it is vital that each individual re-hydrates back to their baseline level following training sessions and matches.
Nutrition: Proper nutrition allows glycogen that is depleted during a soccer match to be restored. High quality carbohydrates and protein are important immediately after a game to help rebuild and repair muscle damage. It is commonly recommended that a good carbohydrate snack be consumed immediately following a match and prior to a well-balanced meal, which usually is eaten 30-90 minutes after a match.
Rest: Although players may have difficulty unwinding after the intensity and thrill of a soccer match, a good night’s sleep is essential for the body to recover and for muscle rebuilding and regeneration to occur.
While these core recovery techniques are essential to a player following a match, it is also extremely important for trainers and athletic staff to understand that each player is different and so is his or her optimal recovery strategy. The player, medical and coaching staffs must all work together to maximize recovery, maintain high-level performance, and reduce the risk of injury.