Soccer is one of the sports that carries great Concussion Risks, since there is a lot of impact that goes to the head. In many people’s minds, and indeed the people that make soccer rules, a greater risk of concussion stems from accidental head collisions, elbowing, hitting the head on the ground or the goalpost. According to some new research, however, heading the ball carries a greater concussion risk than previously thought.
One of those studies, dubbed : The Einstein Soccer Study was conducted in New York to investigate the impact of heading on a group of amateur players aged between 18-55 years. The participants were asked to provide information on how often they got an impact on the head, whether through heading or other
accident impact. They then participated in a neuropsychological assessment to measure attention span, verbal learning, memory capacity and psychomotor speed. They would then repeat the test after a 3 to 6 months interval so as to compare the results. The results showed that players who headed the ball the most times had the worst performance on psychomotor speed and attention tasks. To a smaller extent, the same players had poor performance on working memory tasks.
Although heading the ball might not lead to the worst case of Concussion Injury, it still leads to a player experiencing certain concussion symptoms.
This topic has received considerable attention among current and former players, and the soccer governing bodies. Alan Shearer, the record goal scorer in the English premier league and an all-time soccer legend participated in a study to investigate this phenomenon. The results show that heading does temporarily
disrupt brain chemistry but the long term effects of this are not clear.
Heading has also been associated with other brain problems later in life, such as memory loss or degenerative brain diseases.
It is however important to note that more research is currently being carried out so as to bring more conclusive results.
One of the things that researchers agree upon is that heading affects different types of people to varying degrees. Women are more vulnerable to suffering a concussion from heading than men.
Those at even greater risk are children. Parachute Canada advises children not heading the ball until age 10-12 years. This is because they would take longer to recover and they may develop more complications. While it is possible to make a full recovery from a concussion, the best course of action is concussion-prevention.
For younger children, this means avoiding heading the ball. For older people, it means reducing the frequency of heading the ball and also being cautious about the other types of impacts. In case someone suffers a concussion while playing soccer, ensure that the proper concussion protocol is followed. Ensure they are attended to by a professional, and then given enough time away from the game until cleared by a medical professional.
As more results keep getting published on this topic, our understanding of the topic will improve. With the proper backing of scientific research, the entire game of soccer may be headed to some rules changes, for the better of the players and the fans too.
Read the Soccer Canada Concussion Guide.
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