July 27, 2015

A Move Worse than Headers?

When kids play soccer, concussions are a worry. But parents may be looking in the wrong place to protect their kids.

Parents gearing up for another youth soccer season may be thinking about ways to reduce their children's exposure to the risk of mild traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs. But they may be looking at the wrong type of play.

The research linking headers in soccer to concussions has been fairly convincing in recent years. But a new study on kids who play soccer finds that it’s not just headers that are the problem — even more risky is player-to-player contact.

Since brain injury tends to add up over time, it’s particularly important to help kids stay safe and avoid blows to the head.

This is likely because soccer has gotten more physical and contact-driven in recent years. And the concussions are the unfortunate and dangerous fallout of that trend.

When University of Colorado researchers looked at data on soccer practices in high schools across the country from 2005-2014, they analyzed how many concussions came from what type of play.

Headers accounted for over 30% of concussions in boys, and over 25% of the concussions in girls. But, according to the authors, “Athlete-athlete contact was the most common mechanism of all concussions…regardless of the soccer-specific activity during which the injury occurred.”

For boys, player contact was responsible for 69% of concussions; for girls, it was about 51%.

Since brain injury tends to add up over time, it’s particularly important to help our kids stay safe and avoid blows to the head. Though soccer's physical challenges may pale in comparison to football, it’s certainly risky enough to lead to concussion, whether from the ball or another player.

Banning headers is probably not the key, the authors conclude, “Banning heading is unlikely to eliminate athlete-athlete contact or the resultant injuries…unless such a ban is combined with concurrent efforts to reduce athlete-athlete contact throughout the game.”

So talk with your kids about being judicious with both headers and person-to-person collisions. Though it may be hard for them to remember this in the heat of the moment, emphasizing the importance of protecting their brains throughout their lives is always a good idea — and hopefully it will sink in.

The study is published in the journal, JAMA Pediatrics.

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