Heading is the most common cause of concussion in soccer.
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that is caused by a blow or jolt to the head, disrupting the brain's normal functions.
The issue of concussion in sport and has rarely been out of the public limelight since the first concussion-related lawsuit was filed against the National Football League (NFL) in 2011 by former players. Since then, an increasing amount of studies has researched the risk involved in football.
A new study published in JAMA Pediatrics has revealed soccer may now also pose a risk to children's well-being.
The sport has enjoyed a rapid surge in popularity in the US over the past 3 decades. In 1969-70, just 2,217 schools fielded 49,593 male soccer players with no females participating at all. In 2013-14, more than 10,000 schools fielded over 417,000 male players and 11,000 female players.
Led by R. Dawn Comstock, PhD, of the Colorado School of Public Health and the University of Colorado, the study focused on data collected during 2005-14. Researchers analyzed information from a large, nationally representative sample of US high schools to find certain trends. The researchers sought to identify the specific soccer activities most likely to result in concussions.
In boys' soccer, 332 concussions were sustained during almost 1.6 million athlete exposures (AEs are defined as one high-school athlete participating in one school-sanctioned soccer practice or competition), which works out as 2.78 concussions per 10,000 AEs.
The figure was higher in girls' soccer with 627 concussions sustained during almost 1.4 million AEs, for a rate of 4.5 concussions per 10,000 AEs.
The study also found that for both boys (68.8%) and girls (51.3%), player-player contact was the most common cause of concussion.
Heading was identified as the most specific soccer activity linked with concussion, accounting for almost one third of boys' concussions and just over one quarter of girls' concussions.
Contact with another player was the most common cause of heading-related concussion among both boys (78.1%) and girls (61.9%).
A ban would have limited effectiveness
Results suggest banning heading would reduce the danger of concussion, but the study concludes a ban would have "limited effectiveness." The authors understand that contact within soccer is inevitable and acknowledge the sport has become more physical over time, with athlete-athlete contact occurring more frequently now than previously. The study explains:
"Banning heading is unlikely to eliminate athlete-athlete contact or the resultant injuries. Athlete-athlete contact was the most common cause of concussion for both boys and girls regardless of the soccer-specific activity during which the activity occurred."
According to the study, a ban would not be effective unless "combined with concurrent efforts to reduce athlete-athlete contact throughout the game."
Last year, a study revealed the majority of middle-school girl soccer players continue to play even when showing symptoms of concussion.
A concussion is an unfortunate byproduct of contact sports, and increasingly evidence warns of the dangers repeated concussion can have on children. A study published this year suggests children starting football before age 12 are more likely to have memory issues later on as adults.
For football, the helmet is often cited as a critical factor in preventing a concussion, but one study has suggested it may do little to decrease the risk. Whether new regulations or equipment are implemented for soccer remains to be seen.