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Soccer players may be “heading” for concussions

One of the most popular sports in the world, soccer is often considered a rite of passage for today’s youth. It is also a sport known for a high rate of concussions in it players, according to a study published in 2007 by the Journal of Athletic Training. In 2013, researchers conducted the Einstein Soccer Study, tracking soccer players in order to determine if “heading” the ball intentionally contributed to concussion symptoms to the same degree as accidental impacts, such as player-to-player or goal post collisions.

  • During the study, 222 amateur adult soccer players (79% male) completed questionnaires over a two-week period. The questionnaires asked them about their practice and game schedules, any intentional or unintentional head impacts that may have occurred during those practices or games, and any concussion symptoms (headache pain, dizziness, confusion) they may have experienced.
  • Researchers found that players who intentionally headed the ball the most were three times more likely to experience concussion symptoms.
  • However, players who suffered two or more unintentional head collisions were six times more likely to report concussion symptoms as those who only suffered a single impact. This suggests that unintentional head collisions are more risky than intentional ones.
  • In an interview with Reuters Health, the lead author of the study, Dr. Michael Lipton stated that this study only shows the short-term effects of heading, and more research is needed to address the long-term consequences.
  • The study followed amateur adult athletes in the northeast United States, so it is still unknown if the results can be applied to teenagers and children as well.

The report, published on February 1, 2017 in Neurology, demonstrates that concussion symptoms do arise from intentional heading, though more severe symptoms of concussion did mainly occur due to accidental collisions with other players or goal posts. While this may cause concern in parents over their children heading the ball in youth leagues, Lipton stressed there is a need for more research to track the long-term brain changes associated with heading.

Speaking to the New York Times, Lipton said, “We don’t know how much is too much. It would be great to say ‘no heading,’ but we don’t have enough information to say that. Public health interventions have to be based on evidence.”

Read more about the Einstein Soccer Study here.