With the World Cup we are seeing a lot more of soccer and with the increased televised games we are paying more attention to the injuries sustained by soccer players. There has been a lot of attention paid recently to the dangers of “heading the ball” in soccer as a potential cause of brain injury. But, if we take a hard look at soccer and brain injury, the highest likelihood of a player sustaining a concussion comes from player-to-player, player-to-ground or player-to-goalpost contact. Heading the ball may set the player up for contact with another player and be the trigger incident to the event which causes a concussion. The rates of concussion in soccer rival those seen in football, ice hockey, lacrosse and rugby and the consequences are as severe.
For example, consider Patrick Grange who died in 2012 from complications of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS. Grange was a “serious header” and an aggressive player who sustained many injuries. Following his death, his parents spoke about his history of concussions and sports injuries. His brain was found to have the features consistent with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE, the same type of features found in the NFL players who sustained multiple concussions as well as boxers.
In 2010, Briana Scurry, the goalkeeper for the United States Olympic team suffered a severe concussion which took her out of the sport with significant post-concussion problems and a long recovery. Briana referred to the experience as: “my brain was broken”.
Certainly there are safety improvements which soccer can make, maybe in the form of helmets or headbands which can absorb impact. Soccer is great and fast moving sport to watch, but the safety of players needs to be improved. Attention to sports-related concussion risks need to generalized to sports where there is a danger of injury to the head through any means.
To read more about soccer and concussions click here to read the Mother Jones story.