As football continues to face criticism for its handling of concussions and the long-term risks of playing the violent sport, many younger athletes and their parents are opting for “safer” alternatives. In the past few years, soccer has enjoyed a resurgence due to its perceived safety. Unfortunately, soccer has its own issues with concussions.
A new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine shows that concussion rates for youth soccer players have swelled as the sport grows in popularity.
For the study, a group of researchers reviewed data collected from high school soccer players between 2005 and 2014, which showed that non-concussion injury rates were declining for boys and had remained stable for girls. However, concussions had increased among both genders.
At first, the increase may be concerning but, it may actually be reflective of a positive change. Dr. Morteza Khodaee, lead researcher and sports medicine specialist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine told the Scientific American that the rise in concussions rates “could be mainly due to a better recognition of concussion by medical and coaching staff.”
The researchers specifically examined the injuries per minute of athletic exposure (AE) in both practices and competitions for high school athletes in the U.S. They found that overall there were 6,154 injuries during 2.98 million athletic exposures, for an injury rate of 2.06 per 1,000 AEs.
Injuries were most likely to happen during competitions, with 42% more injuries occurring in games compared to practice.
“The majority of injuries during competitions occurred during the second half indicating a potential accumulated effect of fatigue,” the authors reported.
“It is well known that the risk of injury is higher in competition compared with practice,” Khodaee said. “This is most likely due to more intense, full contact and potentially riskier play that occurs in competition.”
Despite this, over a third of all injuries happened during practices, not games.
Overall, the concussion rate during the study period averaged out to about 0.36 per 1,000 AEs. For girls, the rate rose from about 0.4 per 1,000 AEs to 0.6 per 1,000 AEs during the study. Similarly, the rate for boys increased from 0.2 at the start of the study to 0.45 1,000 AEs at the end.
Concussions were responsible for approximately 17% of all soccer-related injuries for boys, and 19% for girls.
In a small number of cases (21%), concussion symptoms disappeared within a day. However, 29% of concussions took more than one week to heal. In 3.5% of cases, athletes were disqualified for an entire season due to concussions.
The rise in concussion rates in soccer may be related to an increased awareness about the signs and seriousness of brain injuries, but it is still a notable statistic that should be watched in the future.