Youth: Goalkeeper Finger Injuries: What Are They and How to Avoid Them

Sep 23, 2019

***This article is part of an educational series for soccer parents and youth players new to soccer***

For a goalkeeper, those diligent hands certainly do bring wealth and wins. But constantly blocking, swatting, deflecting and catching the ball exposes goalkeepers to a host of hand injuries that are painful and crippling. Of course, the hands are the goalkeeper’s biggest concern so it makes sense that they do their utmost to protect them from injury.

Goalkeeper Injuries: A Closer Look

A hand injury for a goalkeeper can take on many types and locations - the hands, after all, are comprised of many bones along with ligaments, tendons and muscles. With that said, the majority of these injuries take place in the fingers, wrists and even the forearms.

Injuries can appear in various forms, depending on how the goalkeeper catches or touches the ball, how the ball moves in the air, and the technique or level of protection the keeper has (more on this later).

Keep in mind, too, that goalkeepers are routinely exposed to other situations that can lead to injury as well. That includes diving for a ball (slamming their fingers into the goal post), or if an opponent accidentally steps on their hand (while diving on the ground for the ball).

  • Bruises
  • Ligament injuries
  • Tendonitis injuries
  • Joint injuries (sprains)
  • Pulled muscles (strains)
  • Broken bones/fractures
  • Discolations
  • Hyperextended finger

Additionally, common symptoms include:

  • Pain and tenderness
  • Localized warmth
  • Discolouration (due to internal bleeding)
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Stiffness
  • Decreased range of motion (ROM)
  • Locked joints/digits (can’t move finger)
  • Deformity and displacement (seen in broken/fractured bones)

Aside from adrenaline kicking in during tense moments, hand injuries are immediately noticeable. They’re a nagging, throbbing mess that can sideline even the toughest goalkeepers. More concerningly, hand injuries that aren’t properly addressed and treated will worsen, leading to persistent pain, permanent disability and possible deformity. As the cliche goes, prevention is better than cure so we’re here to dish out some tips on how to avoid them.

Condition the Hands, Digits and Arms

An often overlooked aspect of injury prevention in soccer (and many sports) is conditioning. The stronger a muscle, bone, ligament or tendon is, the more load and stress it can withstand, meaning that it’s better protected against injuries. The hands are no different. Regular conditioning and strengthening of the hands protect goalkeepers from those frustrating and painful injuries that keep them on the bench.

  • High planks on fingertips - Planks obviously build outstanding core strength and muscular endurance. However, you’re resting your weight on your fingertips (toes), which by extension, builds strength and endurance in your fingers, much like callisthenics do for other muscles and joints. This will make your fingers more resilient to injury.

  • Grip-based exercises - Exercises such as deadlifts, chin/pull-ups, and other “pulling” exercises can help you build impeccable wrist strength. With strong wrist muscles and joints, there will be more added protection against common injuries such as hyperextension that typically affect weaker wrists.

  • Emphasize Proper Form When Saving the Ball

    Developing proper goalkeeper form is essential to prevent injury, especially for young and inexperienced keepers who see the ball as something to just swat or catch. You can apply proper form to both how you handle the ball and handle your falls.

    When it comes to the former, you want to focus on angling your arms, wrists and fingers slightly forward. The arms shouldn’t stick directly out to your side but rather, slightly forward. When catching the ball, your wrists should be neutral or slightly forward, not bent backward. Also, you want to catch the ball with a “W”-shape formed by the hands. That means palms wide and keeping your hands close with the thumbs almost touching (you already knew that!).

    When dealing with falls, you should avoid letting your body hit the ground all at once. If you happen to land on your hands this way, there’s a good chance that the impact will injure your fingers or wrists. Instead, you want the body to hit the ground in stages.

    Soccer Goalkeeper Gloves & Wrist-Taping to Protect Your Hands

    Of course, protection against finger injuries would be incomplete without goalkeeper gloves. They’re a no-brainer really. With that said, it’s important to choose the right soccer goalkeeper gloves because they’re not all built the same. Some offer more protection while others offer less. You must also give thought to how these gloves affect your performance and comfort.

    With that said, goalkeeper gloves containing fingersaves - which are spines that run the length of each finger - are your best bet against hand injuries. Fingersaves restrict the mobility of your fingers, which protects them from hyperextensions and tendon damage caused by catching the ball awkwardly. Professional goalkeepers often avoid fingersaves because of this restriction of mobility, which can diminish their performance. However, for all other levels, soccer gloves with this finger protection are ideal.

    Additionally, wrist and finger taping can offer much-needed protection for the wrists and hands. For example, Seattle Sounders goalkeeper, Stef Frei, has dealt with his share of hand injuries, and began taping his fingers and wrists. Adapted from Jiu-Jitsu and MMA, these taping practices add stability to the wrist and fingers so that they’re not easily bent out of place.

    This is ideal for elite and professional goalkeepers who prefer not to wear goalkeeper gloves with spines, but GKs at lower levels as well can still use taping as well.

    Get a Grip on Goalkeeper Injuries

    Goalkeeper injuries are frustrating and seriously affect your game, even if they’re minor. True, it’s not possible to completely avoid them, but you can bring the risk of sustaining such injuries way down.

    The key is to use the three strategies above - regular conditioning, proper technique, and protective equipment. By ensuring you’re making use of all three strategies, you can save yourself from spending time on the sidelines and more time making epic saves!

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