Soccer Is in the Concussion Crosshairs Again

Sports Industry News and Analysis

Soccer Is in the Concussion Crosshairs Again

Two stories over the last week point to soccer and the continued susceptibility of the sport’s participants to concussion.

In London, research surfaced that suggested that the impact of “heading” a soccer ball can be substantial and that headgear designed for the sport doesn’t appear to have a significant impact on blunting those forces.

Scientists at Imperial College London conducted experiments that “measured the forces and acceleration of a regulation, adult-size-5 ball propelled repeatedly at a magnesium dummy-like head at 18 meters per second, which is considered the average speed a ball is kicked by nonprofessional players,” according to an Associated Press story.

The story went on to quote Daniel Plant, a researcher in Imperial’s department of mechanical engineering, as saying that the data showed the average forces of a soccer-ball header were similar to those exerted on the head by punches from amateur boxers.

Dr. Plant apparently said that proper technique and training are critical to reducing risk of injury, though nothing specific was mentioned.

Another story, published by Time Magazine, cited new research that “backs up this conclusion” that “girls had higher concussion rates than boys in sports like soccer and lacrosse because of gender differences in neck strength. The weaker your neck, the more likely your head will bob around on impact.”

Dawn Comstock, associate professor of epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health, presented the findings at the fourth annual Youth Sports Safety Summit in early February.

During the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 academic years, “athletic trainers collected measurements of head circumference, neck circumference, neck length, and four measurements of neck strength … on 6,704 athletes nationwide across three sports (boys’ and girls’ soccer, lacrosse and basketball).” The measures were taken before the start of the season and during the season.

“And the results didn’t favor those with tiny necks: concussed athletes had smaller mean neck circumference, a smaller mean neck-circumference-to head-circumference ratio (in other words, a small neck paired with a large head), and smaller mean overall neck strength than athletes who did not suffer a concussion. After adjusting for gender and sport, overall neck strength remained a statistically significant predictor of concussion. For every one pound increase in neck strength, odds of concussion fell by 5 percent.”

Comstock added: “We’re not saying that you won’t get a concussion if your neck is stronger. But the data shows that neck strengthening has strong potential as a key concussion prevention tool.”

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