Player’s Health: The truth about concussions in soccer

Player’s Health: The truth about concussions in soccer

Editor’s Note: US Club Soccer is proud to introduce Player’s Health to its members. Player’s Health is a Players First partner advancing the pillars of Player Health & Safety and Parent Engagement & Education.

By Matthew Cox | Player’s Health

With all the hoopla surrounding the dangers of concussions in football, we tend to forget that head-related injuries extend to sports far beyond the gridiron. And according to new research findings that are now coming to the forefront of the health and science community, “El Juego Bonito” or “the Beautiful Game” as soccer is more commonly referred to across the globe, may not be so “beautiful” after all.

Let’s start with the stunning results from a research study conducted earlier this year by Dr. Wellington Hsu, professor of orthopedics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Injury data was compiled from athletic trainers at 100 participating high schools across nine sports for the 10-year period from 2005-15:

  1. boys football
  2. boys soccer
  3. girls soccer
  4. girls volleyball
  5. boys basketball
  6. girls basketball
  7. boys wrestling
  8. boys baseball
  9. girls softball

The researchers had their eyes set on examining two key statistics:

  • Injury proportion ratio (IPR): The ratio of total estimated concussions to total estimated injuries. In other words, of all injuries documented for each sport, what percentage of those injuries were concussions.
  • Concussion rate: The number of concussions per 10,000 athlete-exposures (one athlete participating in one practice or competition). In other words, how prevalent are concussions in each sport.

If you guessed the hard-hitting, skull-crushing nature of “American football” would come out on top in both categories, guess again. The IPR in football and soccer over the ten-year span were almost identical. And what was even more eye-opening was the disparity of concussion prevalence between girls soccer and boys soccer.  The overall concussion rate for girls soccer was three times as high as boys soccer and nearly tied with football.

The high risk or high exposure to concussions in girls soccer is just one chapter of the story.

Shane Miller, a pediatric sports medicine specialist at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, has been examining a related trend within youth soccer – how quickly athletes return to the pitch after a sustaining a concussion. Miller found that girls soccer players were five times more likely to return to the field on that same day of injury than boys soccer players were.

This phenomenon is especially troubling when we consider the evidence from yet another study by The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. Their analysis attempted to peel apart the gender differences in how long it takes youth athletes to properly recover from head trauma. By looking at the medical records of over 100 males and females between the ages of 11 and 18 years old who were first-time concussion victims, the researchers found that 75 percent of the boys recovered fully within three weeks, compared to only 42 percent of girls.

Many local schools around the country are beginning to take note of the danger and seriousness of concussion risks within soccer and are cracking down with a zero-tolerance policy. Laura Poston, athletic trainer at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, TX, does not take any chances when it comes to even the most minor symptoms. “If they are complaining of headache, they’re done,” Poston said. “As soon as that headache symptom is in, we sit them.”

With an emerging fact base that is pulling back the curtain on just how dangerous youth soccer can be, it’s critical that parents and coaches alike get informed. US Club Soccer has a comprehensive “Resources” web page that covers risk management and player safety recommendations, as well as updates on emerging health standards within youth soccer.