Reducing Injuries with Low Pressure Soccer Balls
Oct 4, 2021
Heading the ball in soccer can hurt but you might worry more about what headers do to your brain. Perhaps, you’re worried about gradually damaging your brain with each successive header, and fear the possibility of long-term consequences.
There are many ways to reduce the risk of a brain injury, however, and one overlooked method may be to deflate soccer balls. Research suggests a lower pressure can reduce the impact that headers have on the brain.
Typical Ball Pressure / Effects on the Brain Upon Impact
If the ball feels harder than it should, then you’re probably right - the air pressure in the ball might be a bit too high. Even science thinks so.
Purdue University researchers found that a size 5 can exceed the 474.8g weight limit in just 15 minutes due to water absorption. A 2016 study found that youth soccer players who headed heavier balls, experienced significant cerebrovascular changes lasting 3-4 months after exposure, changes associated with concussions.
However, researchers discovered that lowering the inflation pressure from 1.10 bar (16 psi) to 0.55 bar (8 psi) decreases peak impact force by 20%. Research has also shown any decrease in impact force will decrease head acceleration, which, in turn, can reduce the risk of brain injuries.
It’s reasonable to say that heading the ball is safer when the ball weighs less. Adjusting the ball pressure is a big factor in reducing the ball’s mass.
Ideal Pressure Settings for Brain Safety
Deflating a ball isn’t rocket science. But knowing whether you should or shouldn’t adjust the air pressure of a soccer ball can be tricky.
After all, there are rules and regulations that all teams have to adhere to such as a mandatory ball size - size 4 and 4.5 being the usual requirement for youth soccer. Also, you don’t want too low PSI because that will reduce its bounce and cause it to fly unpredictably.
The key is to inflate soccer balls to a suitable pressure based on its size and the material it’s made with. So if you’re playing with a size 4.5 ball, it would be ideal to adjust it to the lower end of the recommended PSI values.
Ultimately, coaches and team staff have to speak to league organizers if they can make these adjustments. But the current and future generation of youth players may have minimal rates of head trauma if we start reducing the pressure of soccer balls.
Other Reminders About Ball Pressure Reduction
Of course, taking some air out of the ball alone isn’t going to affect its weight and impact. Remember too, as we mentioned above, that the materials found in a ball can affect the air pressure, so you should be selected about that where possible.
For example, soccer balls with butyl bladders can retain much more air than latex or polyurethane-based soccer balls. Also, factors such as water absorption, ball condition (ie. tears), and the way players kick the ball affect its impact.
With that said, it’s fairly easy to account for these factors. Choosing a ball that doesn’t hold too much air pressure is a good start. Also, teaching and practicing proper header technique will help the skull withstand some of the remaining impact forces.
Low Pressure = No Pressure
Heading the ball in soccer doesn’t have to hurt, neither does it have to cause brain injuries. You can head the ball relatively freely without any worry about long-term damage.
Lowering the pressure in a soccer ball can significantly reduce those risks. However, don’t forget some of the basics as well. Wear soccer concussion headgear since it can reduce some impact force as well, and strengthen the neck since stronger neck muscles further absorb hard hits.
There’s no one magic fix for the concussion problem in soccer, but lowering the pressure of the ball is a good place to start.