A new study says just 10 minutes of a short, simple, structured warm up might reap benefits for young athletes at risk of knee injuries, such as soccer players.
For athletes, particularly school-aged athletes, warm-up activities designed to increase players' flexibility, balance and strength, as well as their foot planting, jumping and cutting skills can significantly reduce injury risk
"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," said Darin Padua, Ph.D., associate professor of exercise and sport science in the UNC 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," Padua added.
During the study, the researchers looked at 173 youth soccer players (boys and girls, ages 10-17) on 27 teams in Durham and Chapel Hill, N.C., to determine how their movements might contribute to injury risk.
They videotaped the players jumping and landing, both before a new warm-up routine was introduced, and afterwards, to see what changes had occurred.
They found that those who had the poorest movement quality at the beginning of the study were the most likely to benefit from the exercises.
The team used warm-up activities designed to increase players' flexibility, balance and strength, as well as their foot planting, jumping and cutting skills in place of jogging and stretching warm ups.
"The players who had the poorest movement quality at the start of the study, those who landed stiff-kneed or knock-kneed when they jumped, or who landed on their heels or one foot before the other, benefited the most from the intervention," Padua said.
"This was true for both boys and girls."
"This shows that warm-up exercises that enhance flexibility, balance and strength can double as injury prevention programs by successfully modifying players' movements," he added.
The study also showed that older children responded better to the warm-up exercises than the younger ones did.
The study is published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.