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Is It OK To Play Soccer With Sore Legs?

Is It OK To Play Soccer With Sore Legs?

After all the kicking, running, jugging, and sliding, you get home and discover that you are suddenly unable to climb up and down the stairs. Your legs are shaking as if you have been suddenly hit by Parkinson’s disease.

A large percentage of soccer players have had to deal with sore legs at one point or another—and it hurts every time. Medically, this condition is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

The pain from sore legs can be mild or severe depending on your level of fitness and how hard you push yourself through your fitness routine. It is also thought that genetics may play a role in the level of soreness of your legs.

Fitness experts like to see sore legs differently. Some will tell you that it is proof that you pushed your body really hard or was part of a challenging workout. However, in severe cases of sore legs, you may be tempted to ask if it is just a routine soreness or the onset of a more serious injury like a muscular tear or sprain.

Considering the fact that it is usually uncomfortable to walk or run with sore legs, the big question becomes, is it OK to play soccer with sore legs? We will tell you all you need to know about sore legs and whether it is safe or not to play soccer with them.

Is it OK to play soccer with sore legs?

While it is possible to play soccer with sore legs, it is not OK to do so—and we will give you our reasons shortly. But, before we get there, it is important to mention how soccer players can develop sore legs.

The majority of sore leg cases are a result of injuries (in the tendons, ligaments, bones, soft tissues, joints, or muscles), muscle overuse, as well as wear and tear.

Activities that force the muscles to lengthen and contract at the same time like deep squats, controlled weight lowering, and running downhill will likely lead to DOMS.

DOMS caused by any other reason apart from injury usually starts around 6 to 10 hours after the training or soccer game. However, you will experience the peak of the soreness around 24 to 48 hours after the game or training.

soccer player is in pain and holding his knee with his teammates gather around

This pain can last anywhere from 3 to 5 days before you will begin to feel OK again. Studies revealed that leg soreness happens as a result of microscopic wear and tear to the leg muscles due to overuse or impact.

Muscle tear is usually accompanied by inflammatory reactions around the tear as the body tries to heal itself. It is this inflammatory reaction that gives you sharp pains.

However, the good news is that after your muscles heal, they become stronger to handle the activities that led to the tear. So, the next time you repeat the same activity with the same intensity, your legs will not get sore or the soreness will be milder.

Therefore, repeating the cycle of stress, rest, and recovery is crucial for becoming a stronger and fitter soccer player. So, one of the key reasons why you should not play soccer with sore legs is because it prevents full muscle recovery.

Other reasons why you should not play soccer with sore legs include;

The soreness may be from deeper injuries

Soccer players are not strangers to injuries, particularly in the legs. However, some usually downplay the injury and keep playing with them. Also, the recovery rate usually varies from one player to another.

When the soreness is from a deep-seating injury, pushing yourself through a soccer game can worsen the injury and increase your recovery time.

man holding his face and knee painfully

If your leg soreness comes with severe pain, it may be a good idea to check with your physician to make sure there is no internal injury associated with the pain before making a return to the pitch.

You may let your team down

Soccer is already a tough game that requires top physical, mental, and emotional fitness. Adding the pain from sore legs to the picture may just be the straw that will break the proverbial camel’s back.

It is hard to play soccer effectively with pains in any part of the body. So, when you insist on playing with sore legs, you may perform poorly and cost your team a crucial game.

This is particularly important because there are only a limited number of substitutions allowed in a soccer game.

How to safely play soccer with sore legs?

During the peak of most competitions, some teams play as many as 3 games per week. Sadly, some teams don’t have enough players to effectively rotate their squad.

What this means is that at some point, key players may have to play some games with sore legs since there won’t be enough time between games for them to recover.

We mentioned that it is possible to play soccer with sore legs. However, there is a caveat to this statement.

Firstly, before you can play with sore legs, the cause of the soreness must be from other factors other than injuries. If the cause of your sour legs is an injury like a broken toe, we strongly advise that you give it some time to heal.

However, if the cause of your soreness after training or a game is due to micro muscle tear, here are the things you need to do to safely play soccer.

1. Adequate warm-up before the game

If you are a fan of soccer, you must have seen soccer players warming up along the touchline prior to being substituted into the game. Warm-up exercises help reduce the soreness.

soccer players warming up

You may want to work with your team’s fitness trainer on the right warm-up exercises for you. However, in the absence of a fitness trainer, a good stretching routine should be able to do the trick.

2. Work out other muscle groups

Having sore legs should not make you stop working out or your fitness level may soon start to decline. To make sure that your fitness level doesn’t drop while recovering, you can work out other muscle groups.

For example, you can focus on training that works out your neck, head, and shoulders—which are other parts of the body that soccer players are allowed to use on the pitch. This will give your legs time to recover.

Soccer players should stretch for 5 to 15 minutes after every game or training while their muscles are still warm. This helps blood flow properly to the muscles and deliver nutrients as well as take away waste for better healing.

3. Stay hydrated

Staying hydrated helps the muscles recover from soreness. Soccer players lose lots of fluid and electrolytes through sweat.

soccer player drinking a bottle of water

Rather than taking water alone, it is better to drink a good sports drink that contains electrolytes that will help restore the balance in your body. Hydration helps your body cool down and reduce the risk of cramps.

Soccer players should drink a minimum of 12 ounces of the right fluid at the end of a training session or soccer game. This should help reduce leg soreness.

4. Cold and hot water therapy

Cold water is highly efficient in reducing leg soreness both immediately after the game and a day or two later. Doing cold and warm water therapy often works like magic in reducing soreness.

If you are feeling sore a day before your next game, dive into a cold pool and spend about 10 to 15 minutes swimming around. Next, get out of the pool and jump into a bathtub filled with warm water—which will warm your muscles.

man swimming in the pool

Now, try stretching your muscles while in the bathtub and see the amount of relief you will get. Take it a step further by adding magnesium or Epsom salt to the warm water for expedited relief from sore legs.

A cold and warm bath works better when you use them side-by-side.

5. Re-energize your muscles

The right nutrition will provide the body with the nutrients it needs to heal itself. Eating food or drinking fluid rich in protein will help the body to repair the torn tissues.

Perhaps, you already know that protein is the building block of cells and tissues in the body. Foods or drinks rich in protein and carbohydrates will re-energize the body and facilitate muscle healing.

6. Pay attention to your pain level

Even when you get in the field with sore legs, always pay attention to your pain level. If after a few minutes of playing the soreness doesn’t begin to subside, notify your coach so that you will be substituted.

soccer player checks his leg pain

Trying to push through the pain may be a bad idea because, not only would you be unable to reach peak performance, but you may also sustain bigger tears to your already sore and tender muscles which will further prolong your healing time.


Expect to deal with multiple episodes of sore legs when you are just starting your soccer career. However, the number of episodes of soreness should reduce as you play more frequently.

During the days that you have to deal with leg soreness, time and patience are all you need to get through every episode. What you should never do is rely on drugs like painkillers.

While drugs like ibuprofen and topical cosmetics like Tiger Balm can help relieve soreness and the pain that comes with it, they will not hasten the recovery time. Wearing compression clothes will also help to improve blood flow to the muscles and help in the healing process.

While it is possible to play soccer with sore legs, it is not something you should be doing, especially if you have a long soccer career ahead of you. Remember, if you treat your body well, it will serve you better on the pitch.