The gold-medal game at this summer's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro was nerve-wracking. The host team, Brazil, was trying to prove itself worthy against long-time foe Germany. After losing 7-1 to Germany in the 2014 World Cup, Brazil was eager to prove that it was still the world’s soccer powerhouse. When star forward Neymar took his signature set-piece during the penalty shootout and sunk the ball deep in the net, it seemed that redemption was at hand.
Olympic dramatics and international rivalries aside, soccer is an extremely athletically-taxing sport. It combines endurance and speed with bodily contact, quick movements, and intricate foot skills. In a typical 90-minute international match, a player can run up to 11 kilometers. There's a change of speed every 5 to 6 seconds.
With the stress these movements put on legs and feet, it is no wonder that injuries are common among soccer players. Soccer-related injuries can be divided into two types: acute and repetitive. For acute injuries, cleat selection is important for injury prevention. In relation to repetitive injuries, using arch-supporting soccer insoles is key for being your best on the field – all day, every day.
Repetitive Soccer Injuries
Repetitive injuries make up almost 50% of all sports-related injuries. If not corrected, improper biomechanics including overpronation can lead to the following injuries in soccer players:
- Metatarsalgia – Common in sports that involve running and jumping, this inflammation of the ball of the foot can be debilitating.
- Plantar fasciitis – The inflammation of the plantar fascia that runs along the arch of your foot is common among soccer players.
- Calcaneal Apophysitis (Sever's disease) – Common in young athletes, this injury is a painful inflammation of the heel's growth plate, caused by the repeated pull of the Achilles tendon on the heel. Stretching and insoles can help prevent and treat this condition.
Soccer insoles that correct faulty biomechanics can help prevent and treat overuse injuries. According to the American Association of Podiatric Sports Medicine (AAPSM), most soccer cleats do not include enough structure to provide this support on their own. "Despite best attempts, supportive adjuncts found in many boots [cleats] may not always provide the needed control for the foot and might need to be replaced by a[n]...insert."
The experts agree. Including after-market soccer insoles is the key for an injury-free and more efficient game.
Choosing the Right Soccer Insoles for Cleats
Soccer cleats usually come with a thin, generic insole that provides minimal support. Yet because the shoes are low volume, there is not a lot of space inside the cleat for soccer insoles.
When choosing a soccer cleat that can fit an after-market insole, keep a couple of things in mind:
- Make sure the cleat has a removable insert. You should remove the generic insert before you put in your soccer insole.
- Assess the fit of the shoe.
- If it is just right, you will want to replace the generic insole with one of similar forefoot thickness.
- If the shoe is too snug, you can increase interior space by using an insole that is thinner or in some cases 2/3 length.
- If the shoe is too roomy or has stretched out, using soccer insoles that are slightly thicker in the forefoot will improve the fit.
- Add arch support to limit pronation and keep the foot from moving around in the shoe.
- Pick soccer cleats with a snug fit. A looser shoe will cause more blisters than a close-fitting shoe.
In some cleats, the insole is firmly attached to the shoe. If this is the case, the thin layer can still be removed by prying up under the middle of the arch. It should pull away easily, giving you more space to insert an arch-supporting insole.
Soccer Cleats and Acute Injuries
Swedish researchers publishing in the journal Sports Medicine define traumatic injuries as "sudden, damaging events such as strains and lacerations." These can include acute breaks (think a broken ankle), sprains, and muscle pulls or tears. Because soccer involves sprinting, stopping, cutting (a sudden change of direction), and pivoting, acute injuries are common. Acute injuries include:
- Lateral ankle sprains – With all the quick movements and side-to-side dribbling, it is easy to sprain the outside of the ankle.
Groin pull – Also called an adductor pull, this occurs when your inner thigh muscle is stretched beyond normal limits.
Hamstring pull or tear – Soccer players often pull or even tear their hamstring. A tear is exactly what it sounds like, a laceration to the hamstring muscle.
- Traumatic knee injuries – Tearing your ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), PCL (posterior cruciate ligament), or miniscus occur when the velocity and force of the movement on the knee go beyond normal limits, often the case when rapidly pivoting or changing directions with the ball.
Traction and Injury on the Soccer Field
Before picking a pair of cleats, you must understand that they serve dual purposes: structured support for running and efficient traction. Soccer's sprinting and abrupt shifts in direction require footwear with excellent grip.
Soccer cleats provide two types of traction: forward-related and rotational. Forward-related traction helps you move forward. As your cleats penetrate the turf, you push off a stable base and increase speed. Rotational traction helps you move side-to-side or switch directions quickly.
Rotational traction is associated with increased injury. If you cut quickly around an opposing player, your cleats can stick to the ground as your body continues to move in another direction. This has the potential for injury.
A recent study from the University of Calgary demonstrated that cleats with high forward traction but low rotational traction had the lowest risk for injury on the soccer field. Unfortunately, most soccer cleats don't advertise their traction values. So how do you pick a good pair?
Select the Right Soccer Cleat to Prevent Injury
John W. Wannop, the kinesiologist who led the study, says:
- Avoid styles with numerous large, toothy cleats or rubbery cleats along the outside of the sole. These can create too much rotational traction.
- Find shoes with groups of shorter cleats in the forefoot. These will provide better forward traction.
Finding cleats with the correct traction is the first step in preventing acute injuries on the field. But for repetitive or overuse injuries, after-market soccer insoles are necessary for stability and comfort during the game. Strong biomechanics will lead to better performance.
The Key to An Injury-Free Game? The Winning Combination of Cleats and Soccer Insoles
After you choose a pair of cleats with efficient traction, it's time to add a pair of soccer insoles. After removing the generic insoles that come with your cleats, you often don't have much room to put in an after-market insole that provides both comfort and support. Luckily, the new Stride Thin – with its 2-mm top cover – will easily fit into a pair of low-volume soccer cleats. With the same medical-grade arch support of the original Stride and Tread Labs' signature 30-day fit guarantee, you can head out to your next practice or game risk free. You might not be the next Neymar, but with a pair of Stride Thin insoles in your cleats, you could just make the winning goal.