By Ken Reed
For years, soccer observers have suspected a link between the practice of heading and brain injury, including concussions. However, scientific evidence has been limited on that front.
That’s beginning to change as the case against heading in terms of brain safety builds.
We’ve known for sometime that soccer has a greater number of concussions than other sports. For example, girls soccer is second only to football for number of concussions in youth and high school sports. However, the causes haven’t been fully understood. Head-to-head collisions, along with head-to-knee and head-to-foot blows are part of the problem. But we know now that heading can cause concussion symptoms.
In a study released yesterday in the journal Neurology, researchers found that soccer players who head the ball on a regular basis are three times more likely to have concussion symptoms than players who don’t head the ball often.
“These results show that heading the ball is indeed related to concussion symptoms, which is contrary to a recent study that suggested that collisions were responsible for most concussions,” said study author Michael L. Lipton, MD, PhD, of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, NY. “The findings raise concerns about the long-term effects from heading the ball, and more research is needed.”
Late last year, a study revealed that heading can cause brain injury.
The United Kingdom study, published by EBioMedicine, is hthe first to detect neurological changes caused by sub-concussive impacts such as heading. Changes in motor response and memory were observed in the study participants, ages 19 to 25.
“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 in a statement released with the study.
Habitually heading soccer balls may have similar effects on the brain as the repetitive sub-concussive hits that offensive and defensive linemen receive banging heads along the line of scrimmage in football.
“Long-term (brain) damage may have less to do with the number of diagnosed concussions and perhaps more to do with the number of sub-concussive impacts to the head,” according to Kevin Guskiewicz, a brain researcher at the University of North Carolina.
A study of Italian soccer players suggests that soccer players are six times more likely to develop motor neuronal disease (MND) than the general population.
“Heading a soccer ball is not an impact of magnitude that will lacerate nerve fibers in the brain,” said Lipton. “But repetitive heading may set off a cascade of responses that can lead to degeneration of brain cells.”
When you think about it, sticking your head (read: brain) in front of a hard-flying orb — one that can come at you at speeds upwards of 50mph at elite levels — doesn’t make much sense.
Now we’re getting more scientific evidence to support the natural human impulse to get one’s head out of the way of said orb.
Yet, in parks across the nation, soccer coaches yell at young soccer players to “Stick your head in there!” during heading practice.
Dr. Robert Cantu, a neurosurgeon and co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE) at Boston University Medical Center, believes heading should simply be eliminated from youth soccer under the age of 14.
That’s a good start.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
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Episode #10 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: An Issues Discussion With Paul Dolan – Dolan is the Cleveland Indians Owner and CEO. He discusses the use of Native American names and logos by sports teams and the decisions to drop the Chief Wahoo logo and the upcoming change to the team name. Other baseball topics include health and safety, possible MLB rule changes and youth participation in the sport.
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Episode #9 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking Sports Issues With Ralph Nader – Nader is a consumer advocate and was named one of the “100 Most Influential Americans of the 20th Century” by Time magazine. He is the founder of League of Fans.
Episode #8 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Save College Sports From Overcommercialization and Professionalization? – The guest is Dr. David Ridpath, a sports business professor and past president of the Drake Group
Episode #7 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Brain Trauma and CTE Risk in Sports With Dr. Ann McKee – Dr. McKee works in the field of neuropathology and has demonstrated that “mild” repetitive head trauma can provoke chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a devastating neurodegenerative disease.
Episode #6 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Need for Quality Physical Education in Our Schools is Greater Than Ever – The guest is Clayton Ellis, one of our nation’s leading advocates for getting our young people to be more physically active.
Episode #5 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Youth Sports with Positive Coaching Alliance Founder Jim Thompson – Thompson started Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) in 1998 to help create a movement to transform the culture of youth sports from “win-at-all-costs” to a positive, character-building experience.
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Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
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