Youth: Are Some Soccer Players at Greater Risk for Concussions Compared to Others?

Nov 27, 2020

*This article is part of an educational series for soccer parents and players new to soccer*

Although no one is immune to concussions and brain injuries, some soccer players (and other athletes) may have a higher risk of getting one. There are many reasons for this. Their biology, playing style, and gender, among other factors, can put them at an increased risk for concussions and concussion-related complications. This post will examine these risks and how to prevent concussions in soccer for younger players. 

What Is A Concussion?

A concussion is a brain injury caused by a fall, bump to the body or blow to the head.  The impact of the collision shakes or bumps the brain inside the skull, causing damage. Sometimes, there are no visible signs of a concussion. Most people will recover from a concussion after a period of rest, but others can take months to recover fully. 

A concussion isn’t always a hard hit or bump to the head. Your brain has a layer of fluid that protects your brain’s soft tissue from your hard skull.  This fluid protects your brain from bumps, but with a hard hit or fall, the brain quickly accelerates or decelerates and hits your skull, resulting in an injury. 

What Happens to Your Brain in a Concussion?

When an impact occurs, the blood vessels in your brain stretch and this stretching can cause them to tear. These small tears allow fluid, like blood, to go to other parts of your brain where they can affect other functions. 

If your brain is hurt, it will bruise just like any other part of your body. Bruising can cause inflammation and swelling, which cuts off blood flow and oxygen to your brain. 

Nerves help your brain transmit signals to the rest of your body. If an impact damages nerves in the brain, it can be difficult for your brain to communicate, resulting in memory loss, fatigue and sleep issues. 

As we’ve seen, concussions are a serious injury with potential long-term effects. What makes an athlete more likely to get a concussion? Here are five risk factors to consider:

1. Concussion Risks in Soccer

When you think of high impact sports, most people would consider football or rugby to be among the top sports for risk of a concussion. While this is true, you may be surprised to learn that soccer is another contact sport with a high incidence of concussion. 

With soccer, many injuries result from body hits and falls. These may not be direct hits to the head, but they can still cause a great deal of damage. Even standard soccer moves like a trip or side tackle can cause a concussion. 

2. Gender Differences in Concussion Risk

For female athletes, soccer has the highest rate of concussion compared to other sports. Recent studies have shown that there are far more injuries in girls’ soccer than boy’s football. Female soccer players also have higher numbers of injuries and more severe injuries compared to their male counterparts. 

There are many possible reasons for this gender difference in concussion rates. These are:

  • Lack of protective gear - Male football players wear protective helmets and padding on the field. In contrast, soccer players wear shin guards and almost no protective equipment. 
  • Smaller Body Size - female athletes could be more at risk for brain injuries due to their smaller physical size, which could be a factor in heading the ball. There is also evidence that female soccer players head the ball more than male soccer players do. 
  • Smaller Neck - female soccer players have smaller necks with weaker neck muscles than their male counterparts, leading to more brain jarring.

3. Age Differences in Concussion

Although most studies on soccer and concussions look at professional competitive athletes, parents and caregivers should also be aware of the risks for younger soccer players. Younger players have lower body weights and weaker neck muscles, but their head size is close to an adult’s size. This difference can make younger players more vulnerable to head injuries and concussions.

Younger players may also be less aware of their surroundings and more likely to run into other players, causing injury. Younger brains are also more vulnerable to brain injuries, and the effects can cause longer-term damage. 

4. Playing Style

The way players move on the soccer field can also increase the risk of concussions. A recent study found that 30.6% of high school boys’ concussions and 25.3% of girls’ concussions happened while heading the ball, but the study found that the contact from players fighting to get the ball was the cause of the actual injury. 

The study also found that the most common reason for a concussion is from a body collision with another player. Concussions are also more likely to happen when you are unprepared for the crash, which occurs when players are fighting over the ball. 

5. Use of Protective Equipment

With other contact sports such as hockey and football, protective equipment is mandatory. With soccer, apart from shin guards and goalie gloves, protective gear is rarely used. So what is the best way to prevent concussions in soccer? Soccer protective headgear (often called soccer concussion headband) is one piece of protective equipment that may reduce the severity and number of concussions. 

The headbands are made of different thicknesses of foam and worn around the head. They are designed to cushion the head (and as a consequence, the brain) from the harder impacts, like those that happen when players collide or between a player’s head and another player’s knee or shoulder. Several studies have tested their effectiveness, and recent data suggests that they may indeed be valuable (more studies, including ratings such as those from Virginia Tech Helmet Lab- will hopefully come soon to add to this growing body of evidence). 

Soccer is a great sport, and one of the most popular sports played around the world. For everyone, but especially younger soccer players, it is essential to understand the risks and take steps to prevent concussions. For more information about soccer headbands, take a look at our product selection or contact us to speak with one of our staff.

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