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SOCCER: Surviving to Thriving in The Beautiful Game

By Dr. Scott Rosenthal

Do you love soccer? As a person who has played competitive soccer for 30 years, I want to address all of you—players, coaches, and soccer parents. If I was speaking only as doctor, I may have steered people away from playing soccer due to the injuries that can occur. But, my love of the sport as both player and spectator prevents such an action. Instead, I will issue a cautionary yellow card and offer some damage-control measures that can not only prevent injury, but enhance performance as well. That is the goooooal of the article!

The ankles, knees, pelvis, lower back, and neck are the most common sites of injury. Although the obvious mechanism of injury stems from an incident of physical trauma (blunt force from hitting the ball, another player, or the ground), it is the routine wear and tear that brings about most long-term problems. Hours of repetitive twisting, explosive starting and stopping movements and ball contact pounds away at the body relentlessly. Joints misalign and fixate. Muscles stretch, tear, spasm, and weaken. Inflammation, scarring, and dysfunction set in. Players are often subject to an accelerated rate of degeneration that can have serious effects later in life.

Such long-term effects of playing soccer are well-documented. Soccer players frequently use their heads for more than thinking. The resulting trauma to the cranium and brain from heading the ball, and injuries to other body parts from play, may not be fully understood and appreciated. The neck is a different story. The force absorbed when heading a ball has been documented in scientific literature and clearly shown to have a deleterious impact on the health of the cervical spine (neck bones). Long-time soccer players were found to have advanced degenerative changes throughout the bones of their neck as demonstrated on MRI and X-ray. The protective bony canal (formed by the stacking of spinal bones) in the neck which houses the spinal cord was abnormally narrowed. It was also revealed that flexibility was decreased among veteran players. (1) In other words, long term soccer players may ultimately suffer from chronic pain, nerve problems in the upper extremities, and other debilitating conditions associated with spinal degeneration and stenosis (the abnormal narrowing of a passage in the body).

Chiropractic offers a comprehensive approach for soccer injuries from head to toe. The array of techniques used in chiropractic can profoundly benefit the soccer player and mitigate the effects the game has on the body. From gentle adjusting (realigning) the bones of the spine and extremities to soft tissue and laser techniques on the muscles, ligaments, and tendons, chiropractic can help keep you and/or your child in the game, get you back on the field, and even help improve performance. The recognition of the important role chiropractic offers in helping soccer players and other athletes was best demonstrated when doctor of chiropractic, William Moreau, DC, DACBSP, was assigned as managing director of sports medicine for the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and chief medical officer for Team USA at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Research on the role chiropractic plays in naturally enhancing physical performance has produced findings that would excite players and coaches looking for an edge. A group of athletes under chiropractic care were compared to a control group that received no care. Agility, balance, power, and hand reaction time were all measured. They improved dramatically in the chiropractic group. The following results were found:

After six weeks, the chiropractic group had an overall 10.7 percent improvement in athletic ability. The control group had a 4.5 percent improvement. After 12 weeks, the chiropractic group's improvement was 16.7 percent!

The study’s author concluded that: “the [chiropractic] athlete reacts faster, coordinates better, executes fine movements with improved accuracy and precision, amounting to an overall better athlete." (2)

What about research specific to improved soccer performance? A study of players from the Regional Premier League in South Africa published in the Journal, Chiropractic & Manual Therapies, showed exciting results:

“There was a significant increase in kicking speed post intervention for all three [chiropractic] manipulative intervention groups”

When considering how many games are either won or lost based on split seconds and how fast the ball can be kicked into the goal or away from danger, the results of this study will make every coach smile.

I have found working with soccer players (both young and old) to be a blast. The types of problems vary so greatly that it is always exciting and challenging. It may be a twisted knee one day, low back or pulled thigh muscle another. I get to use nearly every technique and method in my toolbox. Perhaps the most exciting role I can play as a chiropractor is not only helping a player recover from injury, but take his or her game to a whole new level as my chiropractor father, Dr. Mel Rosenthal, did for me (many times).

To prevent this article from going into overtime, let me conclude. Soccer is an intense sport. The wear and tear on the body is relentless and can have life-long consequences. Winning or losing depends on split second movements. A well-functioning body in proper alignment performs better. Avoid a red card from this doctor and make chiropractic part of your health care team and winning strategy!

PS: If any officials from the national men’s or women’s team are reading this article, I’m available.



  • Eur Spine J. 2004 Feb; 13(1): 76–82
  • Lauro, B.M. Chiropractic effects on athletic ability. Chiropractic: The Journal of Chiropractic Research and Clinical Investigations, 1991, 6(4), pp.84-87
  • Deutschmann et al. Chiropractic & Manual Therapies (2015) 23:1