Starting to play soccer may seem easier than, say, football. You don’t need protective gear – just get yourself a pair of soccer cleats, and you are good to go. Soccer is therefore seemingly easier and cheaper to get into.
With that said, there is one piece of protective soccer gear that you should strongly consider buying – shin guards. Not everybody likes shin guards, but we think that if you are a more or less serious soccer player, you should wear them.
Why? Let’s try to understand why shin guards are important in soccer and how they could benefit you.
The Benefits Of Shin Guards In Soccer
As you might have guessed, the purpose of shin guards is to protect your shins from impact during soccer. Injuries in lower extremities occur very commonly in soccer, so it’s not a surprise that shin guards are quite popular among soccer players.
When it comes to professional soccer, FIFA has even made the wearing of shin guards mandatory. So no matter what your attitude toward shin guards is, if you are playing in any kind of professional soccer – be it on a club or national level – you will have to wear shin guards.
As for those who are playing soccer for recreation, you still have a choice. However, wearing shin guards would be highly preferable due to the following two reasons.
Significantly reduced load upon impact
Shin guards can significantly reduce the impact on your shins when you contact another player. Depending on the material and design of the used shin guard, shin guards absorb most of the force of the impact, only allowing up to 10.9% of the load to be transmitted to the wearer.
A 2014 study investigated the effectiveness of several shin guard models. These shin guards were Nike Mercurial, Adidas UCL, Adidas Predator, as well as two custom-made carbon fiber shin guards – one based on EVA and the other on neoprene.
The results of the study were as follows. In low-impact tests, here is how much force (% of the full impact force) was registered at the tibia:
- Nike Mercurial: 6.21%.
- Adidas UCL: 9.63%.
- Adidas Predator: 9.13%.
- Carbon-1 (EVA): 2.79%.
- Carbon-2 (Neoprene): 3.03%.
High-impact tests were also conducted with nearly 3 times more force exerted on the test rig. The results were:
- Nike Mercurial: 10.9%.
- Adidas UCL: 9.92%.
- Adidas Predator: 10.38%.
- Carbon-2 (Neoprene): 5.16%.
The carbon EVA shin guard was damaged during the low-impact test and therefore was excluded from the high-load trials.
Among other things, the key takeaway of this study was that carbon fiber shin guards provide much better protection than polypropylene ones. Most commercially available shin guards are made of polypropylene, unfortunately – you can find only a few models made of carbon fiber.
Aside from some interesting insight into the comparative performance of different shin guard models, this study also shows that a significant amount of force is being absorbed by shin guards. Depending on the shin guard, you could expect that 90%-95% of the impact force will not reach your tibia.
One important thing to note though – researchers are still not entirely sure whether shin guards can fully protect soccer players from fractures. Fractures happen even when players are wearing shin guards, though needless to say, when you are wearing a shin guard, the risk of a fracture is much lower.
This question may be more difficult to research because force can land onto a player’s shin at different angles and the spot where the impact lands matters too. There may also be some individual differences from player to player.
Still, the benefits of shin guards in force reduction are undeniable.
Soft tissue protection
Shin guards are also going to provide your shins with some protection from wounds and bruises. Open wounds commonly happen when exposed skin contacts the outsole of an opponent’s soccer shoe.
Most likely, a shin guard won’t be able to fully protect your shins from bruises or wounds. But you’ll have a much better chance of leaving the field without a single scratch if you do wear guards. And let’s not forget that shin guards provide significant protection from impact.
Why Some Soccer Players Dislike Shin Guards
Some soccer players think that shin guards are extremely limiting and prevent them from uncovering their full potential. Well, this might be true, but is a minor skill improvement worth the increased risk of a fracture or serious injury?
Aside from that, professional soccer players HAVE to wear shin guards. Does their form become worse? Would soccer players play better without shin guards? Possibly, but shin guards don’t seem to prevent players from obtaining outstanding skill, do they?
If you think that shin guards are limiting your potential, then you should just get better. As top soccer players show, it is possible to play like a god even with shin guards.
Should You Wear Shin Guards?
Shin guards are a good idea no matter your level. If you play soccer more or less regularly, then you should strongly consider wearing shin guards.
However, you will have to determine what kind of shin guards are worth it for you. Carbon fiber shin guards are the best, but they can cost close to $70. In contrast, you can find more or less decent shin guards at just $10-$15.
Needless to say, a $15 shin guard is going to provide way less protection than a shin guard that costs $70. However, a $15 shin guard still provides some protection. It’s better to wear a low-end shin guard than to wear nothing at all.
If you play soccer frequently and aren’t going to give up anytime soon, then we think that you should invest in a good pair of carbon fiber shin guards. Otherwise, if you aren’t a huge fan and aren’t going to play against super-competitive people, then cheaper polypropylene shin guards should work just fine.
Aside from material, also make sure to get well-fitting shin guards. Your shin guards should be neither very tight nor very loose. Do some additional research before investing money in anything.