Concussions and soccer: Head injuries on the rise - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

Concussions and soccer: Head injuries on the rise

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When it comes to concussions in youth sports, football comes to mind first since it represents the highest risk for head injuries. However, throughout the past decade, the concussion rate is on the rise in another sport: soccer.

Health experts say soccer concussions are becoming more frequent with women’s soccer coming in second after football in terms of the number of concussions suffered. With the recent focus on youth concussions, the State of California is working to change the rules to help prevent injuries.

"There's a risk with every sport, and there’s a risk every day with walking down the street or driving your car to work," said Jeff Brandow, San Luis Obispo High School Athletic Director.

The State of California is well aware of the risk and in 2015 amended the concussion protocol, strengthening the law in several areas, especially in the return-to-play standard.

"They have to be cleared by a medical doctor, go through a 7-day period and the final step is a meeting with the Principal. That meeting is held outside of the game, where the coaches are not present so that the player can speak freely," added Brandow.

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics shows 1 in 5 high school athletes will sustain a sports-related concussion during a sports season with female athletes twice as likely to be concussed.

"Female athletes also tend to have more cognitive symptoms rather than the physical symptoms that the boys may have," said Stacy Ritter, San Luis Therapy Athletic Trainer.

Ritter says research is still being done as to why there are higher rates of concussions in girls, but theories revolve around the physical difference between females and males.

"It may have something to do with the strength of the muscles in the neck that may affect them more when they do receive a blow," added Ritter.

Some experts believe that banning headers in youth soccer is one way to limit injuries for both sexes, but recent studies show most head injuries come from athlete-to-athlete contact.

"When there’s the ball in the air and the two players are going after the same ball, the injury is often times through the two players striking each other," said Brandow.

The Pediatrics study also concluded the majority of concussions – 69 percent for boys and 51 for girls - comes from crashing into another player while defending, goal-tending or chasing a loose ball.

"Anytime a player goes to the ground there is always that potential for a head injury, so it’s hard to say whether one is more dangerous than another," said Ritter.

While there is no regulation currently banning heading in youth soccer, San Luis Coastal Unified School District is placing an emphasis on students reporting how they feel after taking a hit to the head.

"Only the players really know how they feel, so that relationship piece in working with us is what is most important," added Brandow.

Although awareness about the dangers of concussions has increased, Ritter says additional changes to concussion protocol will continue to evolve as more studies are released.

Brandow adds there have been talks about possible headwear for soccer players, much like a helmet. However, that’s just one of many ideas being drawn up with no plan right now for implementation.

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