Soccer, Not the Safest Sport when looking at Head Injury


A recent study of 32 amateur soccer players is finding that soccer players who “headed” the ball 1,000 to 1,500 times a year exhibit abnormalities of the brain. While 1,000 to 1,500 sounds like a lot, it boils down to “heading” the ball only 3-4 times a day.  Most of the 1,000 to 1,500 “headings” occur during practice drills, “where players often head the ball back and forth 30 or more times at a shot,” says Micheal Lipton, MD in an interview with Carlene Laino.

Areas of the brain affected include: memory, attention, planning, organizing, and vision.  Furthermore in a previous study with the same 32 individuals showed they also scored worse on tests of memory and reaction time, according to Michael Lipton, MD, PhD, associate director of the Gruss Magnetic Resonance Research Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, N.Y.

Chris Dinsen Rogers reports in Live Strong that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that sports and recreation related head injuries account for about 135,000 emergency room visits each year.  Rogers states”Other forms of brain injury such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) have a long history of association with boxers. CTE is a degenerative disease affecting memory and judgment. However, this form of dementia is also being seen more commonly in other athletes, including soccer players. A major risk factor is repeated head injuries. According to Asken, estimates of the times in which a soccer player heads a ball is between 5 to 9. Each time this occurs, the risk for TBI exists.”

While young men who headed the ball less frequently did not show these abnormalities, the problem is still a significant one. Studies are not able to show us what the “safe range” is.  How much is too much? It is important to realize when you cross that line, you can never go back. Brain Damage doesn’t just “go away”, it can cause lifelong issues.

Imagine the difficulties conducting the business of day to day life if your brain has been compromised, and your memory, attention, planning, organizing, and vision are no longer functioning at optimum capacity.  Head injuries are not something anyone should want to flirt with; would you take your CPU and bounce a ball off of it? Most likely not, but yet we do this with our own irreplaceable CPU – the human brain.

Case in point look at Taylor Twellman,  a soccer player who now has to confront the effects of post-concussive effects on a daily basis; and Chad Marshall who according to The Concussion Blog, had to take time off due to concussion like symptoms, the article states “The next head injury Chad Marshall suffers could be the last of the hulking Crew defender’s Major League Soccer Career. “ This is minimizing the true global impact an injury of this nature can have on an individual’s life. Players and coaches alike need to know the signs of a possible concussive brain injury from sports and the steps to take to avoid lifelong problems.

More reading:

Click here to read more details of the study in sports medicine

Chronic traumatic brain injury in professional soccer players

Click here to read more about soccer and concussions in Brain and Spinal Cord

Click here to read more about Head Trauma and CTE in Health Communities

CDC’s heads up to schools: Know Your Concussion ABC’s

Tips for Coaches:

CDC’s tool kit for concussion in youth sports

CDC’s tool kit for concussion in High School Sports

BIA USA links to several types of tools for brain injury

About Penny R Miller, MS, LPC, CBIS

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One Response to Soccer, Not the Safest Sport when looking at Head Injury

  1. John Anthony August 24, 2012 at 7:46 am #

    Sports that include heading the ball so many times are normal to got influence to the brain.

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