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"Heading" in Soccer and Concussions
Soccer players frequently use their heads to pass or shoot the ball
a practice that some experts think can cause brain injuries. In October
2001, the Institute of Medicine brought together experts in head injury,
sports medicine, pediatrics, and bioengineering for a workshop. Those
taking part in "Youth Soccer: Neuropsychological Consequences
of Head Impact in Sports," presented the scientific evidence for
long-term consequences of head injury from youth sports, especially
soccer, and possible approaches to reduce the risks.
Recent research reveals that a concussion unleashes a cascade of reactions
in the brain that can last for weeks. In fact, there are many examples
of previously proficient students struggling to pass high school after
experiencing concussions on the soccer or football field.
There is also evidence that youths who experience concussions may be
at more risk for brain damage than adults because their brains are still
developing and may be more susceptible to long-lasting brain damage following
just one concussion.
But if heading is done properly, the ball's impact is not usually strong
enough to cause a concussion. The proper technique involves contracting
the neck muscles so the head is more rigidly fixed to the trunk of the
body and hitting the ball squarely with the forehead near the hairline.
Concussions do not always cause visible symptoms, making them hard to
identify. Contrary to popular belief, concussion does not necessarily
involve loss of consciousness. And because any loss of consciousness
frequently lasts only seconds to minutes, it is often not even detected
because of the time it takes to stop a game and assess the condition
of a player following a head injury. Other signs of a concussion include
delayed responses, slurred speech, memory problems, and a vacant stare.
Many speakers at the conference strongly recommended that the people
on the playing field and the sidelines need to become educated about
the signs and symptoms of a concussion.
Thus far no published study has provided direct evidence that heading
a soccer ball causes long-term deficits in mental functions. However,
none of the available data are based on pre-adolescent children. As a
result, the American Youth Soccer Organization recommends that children
under 10 should not head the ball, but it continues to support the practice
of heading for older soccer players.
June 2002 Update
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