Studies Show Soccer Hits Cause Traumatic Brain Injury

Awareness of the link between concussions in sports activities began when former football players committed suicide after suffering the effects of traumatic brain injury on the field. New data shows that soccer players are also at high risk for traumatic brain injury.

Hockey, lacrosse, boxing, baseball, skateboarding, skiing, and horseback riding expose players to head injury, but soccer players are at greater risk of suffering degenerative damage, due to the number of repeated hits to the head.

Whether in practice games or competition, soccer players who frequently “head” the ball are three times more likely to have concussion symptoms than players who don’t experience large numbers of headers, according to a study published in the journal Neurology. When a bump or jolt to the head or a hit to the body causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth, the brain bounces against the inside of the skull. Soccer players routinely experience a large number of head-to-head collisions, head-to-knee collisions, and head-to-field collisions on the field, with the potential for repetitive concussions.

Research Reveals Brain Damage from Soccer Heading and Collisions

Researchers from the University College London and Britain’s National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery studied 14 brains of former soccer players who developed dementia and had signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Of those 14 studied, 4 (29 percent) had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) pathology, a consequence of repeated impacts to the brain, including heading the ball and concussion from head-to-head collisions. A previous study of 268 brains from the general population in Britain found a far lower CTE detection rate of only 12 percent. Earlier studies, where researchers compared soccer players to swimmers showed that swimmers’ brains looked perfectly normal while soccer players’ brains had abnormalities in the white matter fiber tracts that carry messages throughout the brain. If the brain is violently shaken enough, there tends to be disruption of those fiber tracts. Another study from Purdue University found that heading of goal kicks and hard shots are as damaging as helmet-to-helmet impact in football.

When Is Concussion More Likely to Occur

A number of biological factors determine whether or not a hit to the head will lead to a concussion:

  • How many concussions a person has had before
  • How severe those previous concussions were and how close together they occurred
  • Neck strength (a strong neck supporting the head reduces the chance of concussion)
  • Hydration status (if you are dehydrated you are more likely to have a concussion)
  • Gender (women are more easily concussed than men)
  • Age (it is easier to concuss at an earlier age than at an adult age and recovery is slower)

Myelin that coats white matter fibers carrying brain messages is not as thick and strong in youngsters as in adults. Youngsters also have bigger heads in proportion to their bodies with very weak necks, compared to adults, giving them a bobblehead-doll effect that tends to cause damage.

By |April 24th, 2017|Brain Injury|

Update on Youth Sports Concussion State Laws

Since Washington State passed the Zachery Lystedt law in 2009, each state has enacted legislation to protect young athletes from the risks associated with concussion in sport.

On October 2006, 13-year old Zachery Lystedt collapsed from a traumatic brain injury when he was allowed back into the game just fifteen minutes after suffering from a concussion and then spent months in a coma followed by years of rehabilitation. As a result of that event, Washington State enacted the first youth sports concussion safety law to address management in youth athletics, called the Zachery Lystedt law.

The key provisions of the Zachery Lystedt law are:

  • School districts board of directors and state interscholastic activities associations must develop concussion guidelines and education programs.
  • Youth athletes and a parent and/or guardian must sign and return a concussion and head injury information sheet on a yearly basis before the athlete’s first practice or before being allowed to compete.
  • Youth athletes suspected of having sustained a concussion in a practice or game must be immediately removed from competition.
  • Youth athletes who have been taken out of a game because of suspected concussion are not allowed to return to play until after:
    • Being evaluated by a health care provider with specific training in the evaluation and management of concussions
    • Receiving written clearance to return to plan from that health care provider
  • A school district complying with the law is immune from liability for injury or death of an athlete participating in a private, non-profit youth sports program due to action or inaction of persons employed by or under contract with the sports program if:
    • The action or inaction occurs on school property.
    • The non-profit provides proof of insurance.
    • The non-profit provides a statement of compliance with the policies for management of concussion and head injury in youth sports.

NFL Commissioner Urges State Governors to Enact Youth Concussion Laws

Following passage of the Zachery Lystedt law, in the spring of 2010, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a letter to 77 U.S. Governors to encourage them to push for concussion legislation to protect youth athletes in their states.

He said: “Given our experience at the professional level, we believe a similar approach is appropriate when dealing with concussions in all youth sports.  That is why the NFL and its clubs urge you to support legislation that would better protect your state’s young athletes by mandating a more formal and aggressive approach to the treatment of concussions.” 

States Pass Youth Concussion Laws Modeled after Zachery Lystedt Law

By 2013, all states except Mississippi had enacted youth sports concussion safety laws modeled after Washington State’s Zachery Lystedt law. Finally, in 2014 Mississippi became the 50th state to respond by passing legislation to protect young athletes from the risks associated with concussion in sport.

The three main tenets of each state’s concussion legislation are:

  • To mandate educational outreach to coaches, parents and athletes
  • To mandate immediate removal from play of any athlete who sustains a concussion or who exhibits signs, symptoms or behaviors consistent with the injury
  • To only allow those athletes who exhibit such signs, symptoms, or behaviors to return to physical activity after receiving written clearance from an appropriate health care provider who is trained in concussion management

Many state laws also require parents to sign an acknowledgement form prior to allowing their child to play a contact sport after they have received information on concussion and acknowledged concussion risks involved with that sport.

Although nearly all laws include those three tenets, based on their own individual needs, many state laws vary on what sport programs must comply, what penalties exist for those who do not comply, and what medical providers are “appropriate” to make return to play decisions.

By |April 17th, 2017|Brain Injury|