With the increasing understanding of how devastating head injuries can be, parents of soccer-playing children are beginning to be concerned with how much soccer is bad for their children.

Head injuries - helmets don’t help

Even minor head injuries are known to cause permanent damage and they happen even when soft objects collide with the head. A soft object injury can cause separate injuries on opposite sides of the brain - doctors call this a contrecoup injury where an injury occurs because the brain strikes the opposite inside of the skull from the point of contact.

What happens is that first the skull hits or is hit by something, even as soft as a soccer ball, bruising the brain as it decelerates by hitting the skull - a coup injury. Next, the brain, being a soft, spongy, fluid-saturated ball itself, rebounds and is injured again in a contrecoup injury against the opposite inside of the skull - that means that even a soft impact can inflict two injuries on the brain in a single event.

The concern is that soccer players who can’t touch the ball with their hands are often headers, that is, they intentionally hit the ball with their heads and some do so repeatedly, often many times in a single game. So do multiple small injuries causing cumulative brain damage.

Some have suggested wearing helmets but studies show that because of the coup and contrecoup kind of injury responsible for concussions, wearing a helmet does no good because the injury is caused by the brain moving around inside the skull.

Let me repeat that because it is a common myth - helmets do not stop concussions!

A 2014, study by the Florida Center for Headache and Sports Neurology, evaluated 10 football helmets in drop tests measuring the kinds of forces which cause concussions.

This study focused only on the anti-concussion benefits and study found, ”helmets, while effective in reducing the number of skull fractures and brain contusions, are not effective in reducing the shear forces involved when an athlete sustains a concussion.”

Helmets are still necessary because they do help prevent skull fractures and bleeding in the brain, both serious injuries caused by head trauma.


in a American Academy of Neurology study published Feb. 1, data on Central Nervous System (CNS) symptoms of amateur soccer players was based on online questionnaires which asked about soccer games, the number of heading or accidental head trauma (hitting other players, etc.), and the frequency and severity of CNS symptoms ranging from mild to severe brain damage (headaches, double vision, syncope (passing out).

Questions were repeated at 2-week intervals. The result was that 222 soccer players (177 male) completed 470 reports with an average of 44 heading events for men and 27 for women. Unintentional head impacts were reported by 37% of men and 43% of the women. CNS injuries were reported 93 times, 20% of the HeadCounts.

The study concluded both the intentional soccer ball heading and the unintentional head impacts cause moderate to very severe CNS symptoms.

More studies needed

A Science Magazine story in the October 30, 2013, issue reported there are, “Huge Research Gaps on Youth Concussion in Sports.” The story was based on a report by the Institute on Medicine, a division of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

An NAS white paper, “Sports-Related Concussions in Youth: Improving the Science,” found, "some studies provide useful information but much remains unknown about the extent of concussions in youth; how to diagnose, manage, and prevent concussions; and the short- and long-term consequences of concussions as well as repetitive head impacts that do not result in concussion symptoms.”

The study concluded, ”Given the prevalence of youth sports participation in the United States, improving understanding of the extent, causes, effects, and prevention of sports-related concussions is vitally important for the health and well-being of youth athletes.” But where do we find the money?