Youth: What Brain Scans & Cadavers Remind Us About Concussion Safety

Apr 14, 2021

You don’t need to be a neuroscientist to know that head trauma is serious business. However, research performed through neuroimaging and cadaver analysis has given us some truly frightening findings on the subject of head trauma.

Scary as it is, soccer players, coaches, and parents need to be fully aware of how much of an impact head trauma can have on the brain. Understanding the severity of soccer concussions will serve to highlight just how important player safety is in the game. This article will go over these findings, and show how proper safety techniques and soccer headgear can lower if not eliminate the risks of brain trauma in soccer.

What Neuroimaging Shows Us

Traumatic Head Injuries are serious business - it’s estimated that these kinds of injuries have a cost to the US of up to $30 billion a year. Most of us assume that we know what a concussion looks like - a serious blow to the head that knocks someone out cold. However, it turns out that brain trauma may be a more expansive term than we realized.

Neuroimaging is a relatively new discipline, which uses a variety of techniques to map out the brain and nervous system of a patient - and any damage or changes to that system. This has given doctors a fresh look at just what head injuries will do to a brain, and what they found is surprising.

Firstly, neuroimaging has shown the damage from head injuries is not always temporary. Players and coaches should be aware that soccer concussions could have implications that last a lifetime. Neuroimaging can pick out parts of the brain that have permanently reduced blood flow and damaged cells. The most common disease caused by this kind of damage is known as “chronic traumatic encephalopathy”, or CTE. 

The more alarming finding is that neuroimaging has discovered that this kind of damage can even arise without concussions. Brain damage in sports has long been associated with “high impact” sports, like American football, where intense contact is part of the game. But a study of soccer players who had not suffered a major soccer concussion showed that they still had brain damage from what many would have thought to have been “minor” head injuries. 

What Cadaver Analysis Tells Us

In 2012, soccer player Patrick Grange tragically died at the age of 29. Two years later, it was confirmed from cadaver analysis that the conditions that caused his death were linked to CTE - making him the first soccer player diagnosed with CTE. 

At the time this was shocking news. CTE had mainly been associated with boxers, as well as players of hockey and American football. Cadaver analysis has allowed us even greater insight into how this damage happens compared to neuroimaging. 

The most surprising lesson learned from cadaver analysis is that you don’t need a large collision to do damage - even repetitive heading of the ball or falls can do lasting damage. Even more concerning, cadaver analysis also shows that you don’t even need to hit your head to do damage - severe whiplash alone can cause the brain to rotate in the skull, doing permanent injury. 

How to Decrease the Risks of Head Trauma in Soccer

As we can see, these new scientific investigative techniques tell us two vital things - brain damage is much more common in soccer than is assumed, and that brain damage does not have to come from obvious collisions or serious concussions. 

This means that head protection is always important in soccer - no matter if it’s just a practice or an intense and important game. There are a few ways that any coach can help keep their team safe. These can include...

Practicing Proper Heading Techniques: As has been shown, repetitive improper heading can lead to cumulative brain damage. Practicing the right way to perform heading will help reduce risk over time.

Practicing Proper Aerial Techniques: Many of the most dangerous falls in soccer come when two players are competing for control of an aerial ball. Practicing the right way to get control of a ball is key, as is making sure players don’t attempt dangerous maneuvers that may lead to collisions

Improving Visual and Situational Awareness: Too often, the worst collisions happen simply because neither player was aware of the other until it was too late. Practicing to improve situational awareness in players can help avoid any collisions in the first place.

Wearing Protective Headgear: Sometimes a collision or fall is just unavoidable. In these cases, soccer headgear is the last line of defense against soccer concussions. While it won’t guarantee protection against a concussion, it may help lessen the severity of the concussion, as well as the long-term risks. 

The Storelli ExoShield Head Guard is the only headguard shown to reduce the risk of head injuries. A 3-year study at the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab found that the ExoShield Head Guard lowered the rate of injuries by as much as 84%. Take a look at our product page for more information on this critical study.

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