Soccer Headers, Concussions, and Heartache

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Any sport where your head is involved runs a risk of injury. But in soccer, where athletes are supposed to use headers to take control of the ball, concussions and traumatic brain injury can be devastating.

Most of the stories about concussions in the news center on American football. But in that other kind of football, soccer, the chance of concussions can be even more severe. Headers are a regular part of the sport, as are inadvertent blows to the face.

Concussion Leads to Heartache for Soccer Players

The contact nature of the sport can make the next game your last. Take Chris Rolfe of D.C. United. An inadvertent elbow to the nose has left him disoriented, unable to organize his thoughts. He shared with the Washington Post that as a result of his injury he became lost in a grocery store.

“On his fifth loop [around the store], he recalled, ‘I just lost it. I was scared and overwhelmed. I realized something was really wrong with me. It made it real.’”

This was his 5th concussion as a professional soccer player, but his first in 10 years. Even so, he is “still not in the clear, by any means.”

Nor is his teammate Patrick Nyarko, who has suffered 6 concussions in 8 years. After a similar blow, Nyarko began having vision problems. The contrast between light and dark became unbearable.

“The light was so bright,” he said, “it was like stabbing pain in the back of my eyes. . . . I noticed everything. I couldn’t concentrate on the road,” Rolfe said. “I couldn’t block anything out. I had no filter.”

Studies Show Brain Trauma From Soccer Headers

In fact, one study showed that 22% of all reported soccer injuries are traumatic brain injury (TBI). Another study shows that, just like youth football players, soccer athletes can experience brain changes even without a concussion. When amateur players ages 19-25, headed soccer balls 20 times over 10 minutes, they scored worse on short- and long-term memory tests than they had before the exercise.

While these brain alterations faded within 24 hours, researchers warn that they could be signs of long-term damage.

“For the first time, sporting bodies and members of the public can see clear evidence of the risks associated with repetitive impact caused by heading a soccer ball,” [said] Angus Hunter of the University of Stirling in Scotland said in a statement accompanying the new research results. We hope these new findings will open up new approaches for detecting, monitoring and preventing cumulative brain injuries in sport. We need to safeguard the long-term health of soccer players at all levels, as well as individuals involved in other contact sports.”

Before you take the field for any contact sport, make sure you weigh the risk. One wrong move could put your career on hold, for good.

David Christensen is a brain injury expert at Christensen Law in Southfield, Michigan. If you have suffered a traumatic brain injury because of a car crash, contact Christensen Law for a free consultation.