With almost 270 million players globally, at any given moment there is an ongoing soccer game. Not surprisingly, with all of the head butting and player collisions to score that winning goal comes a striking increase in the number of concussions. According to two studies performed by the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in 2007 and 2010, of all American high school athletic activities, soccer ranks second only to football for highest concussion percentages. Moreover, overall concussion rates have risen over that time period from 8.9percent to 13.2 percent of all high school athletic injuries. In gender comparable sports where both boys and girls can participate, girls had a higher concussion rate than boys. In fact, girls’ soccer only lags behind boys’ football for the highest number of concussion-related injuries.
What is a concussion?
According to the Mayo Clinic Arizona Concussion program, a concussion is defined as a traumatic brain injury that alters the way your brain functions. One’s brain is typically cushioned from jolts and movement by a system of fluid known as cerebral spinal fluid; your brain and spinal cord float in this fluid within your skull. Concussion occurs when the brain hits the hard skull from the force of a hit. The signs and symptoms of concussion are not immediately obvious and can include headache or a pressure feeling in the head, confusion, amnesia, ringing in the ears, slurred speech, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, or fatigue. Temporary loss of consciousness may or may not occur. Some symptoms may be delayed in onset by hours or days after injury and can include problems such as concentration, memory complaints, irritability, sensitivity to light and noise, sleep disturbances, and problems with taste and smell.
What are the risks of concussion?
According to the American Academy of Neurology, most athletes who experience a concussion recover within a week. This means that all symptoms have resolved and the healthcare provider believes the athlete is back to normal. However, about 15 percent of athletes who suffer concussion may take weeks or months to recover. If an athlete returns to playing or participation too soon, they are at risk for another concussion with symptoms that can last much longer and in some instances can result in very serious impairments, including stroke, dementia, and in very rare instances, death.
Why is soccer a high risk sport for concussion?
Soccer is popular because one needs only a ball to play the game and, in contrast to football, there is no special protective equipment like a helmet. A violent hit, such as that which occurs with heading a soccer ball into the goal or colliding with another player, can cause the brain to slide back and forth against the inner walls of a very tough skull. These injuries can affect brain function, resulting in the signs and symptoms of concussion.
What you should know about concussions:
- Make sure all athletes, parents, teachers, coaches, athletic trainers and directors know all the symptoms and signs of concussion.
- Take advantage of new baseline tests that can be offered to any individual that plays in a sport to set up an objective baseline measure. If and when a concussion occurs, they can compare the results of that test to one’s baseline to know if there is a difference. In many places these tests are now offered free of charge.
- If a concussion is suspected, the player should be immediately removed from the game and evaluated by a healthcare professional. Return to play decisions should be made by doctors. Rest for several days is the key to recovery.
- Concussions can occur without a blow to the head and loss of consciousness.
- Seek emergency care if a player has a concussion there is loss of consciousness for more than 1 minute, repeated vomiting, seizures, difficulty with mental function or physical coordination or symptoms worsen over time.
Dr. Joseph Sirven is a first-generation Cuban American. He is Professor and Chairman of the Department of Neurology and was past Director of Education for Mayo Clinic Arizona. He is editor-in-chief of epilepsy.com and has served US and global governmental agencies including the Institute of Medicine, NASA, FAA, NIH and CDC.