As a parent, you already know that soccer is one of the most popular sports of younger athletes. On any given weekend you’ll find teams of kids on the field kicking and heading soccer balls. If you have a young daughter that plays soccer, you may be surprised to learn that she is more likely to suffer a concussion than her high school counterpart.
Researchers found that pre-teen and early teen girls are very vulnerable to concussions and many play through their injury instead of seeking medical attention.
Although awareness has increased about sports related concussions, little research has been done on middle school athletes, especially girls, noted study co-author Dr. Melissa Schiff, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health in Seattle.
In a new study, Schiff and her colleagues evaluated 351 soccer players from 2008 to 2012, between the ages of 11 and 14. Researchers found 59 concussions. A concussion is defined as a traumatic injury to the brain after a blow, shaking or spinning. In the study, the girls' symptoms included headache, dizziness, drowsiness and concentration problems.
High school or college women’s soccer reported fewer injuries than the middle school students.
Experts recommend those who have a concussion be evaluated by a doctor or other health care professional trained in the injury, but Schiff found that ''56 percent were never evaluated." Experts also advise that players not return to practice or games until symptoms disappear, but 58 percent of the players in the study continued to play even with symptoms persisting, she said.
In this study, the researchers randomly selected 33 of 72 elite teams from four youth soccer clubs in the Puget Sound region of Washington State. Players reported injuries and symptoms.
Researchers noted that players colliding with each other caused half of the concussions and 30 percent were from heading the ball. Heading involves hitting the ball with the forehead to redirect the ball during play. While heading was a major contributor to concussions, Schiff thinks it’s unrealistic to think that it will be banned. "It's part of the soccer sport," she said.
However, it was found to result in concussion 23 times more often in a game than in practice. One suggestion, she said, is to teach middle school athletes heading in practice but tell them not to do it in games until they are older. The researchers speculate that younger players' less mature brains and weaker neck muscles, along with poorer heading technique, may contribute to the number of concussions.
In 2009, the Zackery Lystedt law was passed in Washington State requiring athletes under the age of 18 be removed from play when they are suspected of sustaining a concussion. Since the study began earlier than 2009, the law wouldn’t have affected some of the girls.
Concussions aren’t a surprise in the game of soccer. It can be a rough and tumble sport. Players, parents and coaches need to pay attention to the symptoms associated with concussions and make sure that athletes are removed from the game and diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.