NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Soccer is one of the world's most popular sports, enjoyed by millions around the globe -- and resulting in millions of injuries each year.
But a set of 11 low-impact exercises incorporated into warm-ups can reduce soccer injuries by up to 12 percent in matches and 25 percent in training sessions, said a study by researchers working with the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and published in The American Journal of Sports Medicine."
The injury prevention program, dubbed "The 11" and now updated to "The 11+," is a series of exercises focusing on stability, balance, flexibility and strength, and designed specifically to prevent soccer injuries.
During the study, carried out in Switzerland, the program was integrated into a course required for coaches.
A thousand coaches were asked about injuries among their players, then asked again four years later. They were also asked if they were using "The 11" program.
Those who said 12.6 percent of their players had been injured in matches over the previous month, compared to 14.2 percent of players of coaches who hadn't been using the program.
"Even this small percentage, nationwide, has importance," said Jiri Dvorak, FIFA's chief medical officer and head of the study team.
Soccer players tend to rely disproportionately on the quadriceps and inner thigh muscles, which causes most of the most common soccer injuries such as sprained ankles, hamstring and groin strains, and injuries to knee ligaments.
Dvorak noted that when millions play soccer, even a difference of 1 percent has a huge impact, adding that the program is now being implemented in Japan, elsewhere in Europe and in the Americas.
In 2003 in Switzerland alone, more than 42,000 soccer injuries were reported, costing millions of dollars and lost working days.
Reporting by Alison McCook at Reuters Health; editing by Elaine Lies