As kids and teens get ready for the start of a new school year, many will be lacing up their cleats in anticipation of the coming soccer season. Playing soccer brings together all the benefits of rigorous exercise, fun with friends and an unlimited abundance of orange slices. However, participation also comes with the risk of injury.
Concussions, a type of traumatic brain injury, are all too common in the soccer world. It’s clear that the protection mouth guards provide is far from sufficient for protecting your child from a concussion. So, if soccer’s protective equipment can’t keep players safe, what can?
Dr. Michael O’Brien, director of the Sports Concussion Clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital, helps athletes who have sustained concussions get back in the game and works with athletes to prevent sports injuries, including concussions. His advice to players, parents and coaches on what athletes can do to reduce the risks of concussions revolves around effective and clear communication.
Germany’s Christoph Kramer is a World Cup Superstar. He’s also a symbol of an extremely flawed sports concussion policy. Kramer was knocked out and lost consciousness 17 minutes into the World Cup final match. Germany’s team doctor allowed him to play for another 15 minutes, finally allowing him to be removed from the game as he fell over.
“Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case,” says Michael J. O’Brien, MD, director of the sports concussion clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital. O’Brien cites Uruguay’s Álvaro Pereira. When Pereira was knocked out cold during a first-round match, the team doctor called him out. The doctor’s decision was overruled by Pereira and the coach.
“We need an agreed upon set of rules for handling players with symptoms of concussion. These rules need to be applied in all cases—whether it’s the World Cup Final or a pre-season scrimmage,” says O’Brien.
The professional athlete risks his health when he plays impaired or concussed, and also sends the wrong message to youth sports’ players and coaches. “Kids identify with professional athletes,” says O’Brien. “Aspiring soccer players try to emulate pros, even their risky behavior.”
A two-part solution
O’Brien and other experts recommend a complete shift in FIFA’s concussion policy. Suggestions include:
- providing time to assess players with suspected concussion (current player substitution rules require teams to play with one less athlete on the field while a doctor assesses the injured player, which creates a disincentive for sideline assessment)
- authorizing an independent physician, rather than a team physician, to remove a concussed player from the game
- implementing a standard, science-based protocol to sports concussion assessment and return to play
Parents and coaches can be part of the solution, too, says O’Brien. “We need a culture change. It’s important for parents, players and coaches to determine youth sports goals and set limits. Is the goal to stay healthy and have fun? Does possible victory merit pushing through injury and increasing risks to player’s health?”
Do you want to learn more about protecting players from head injury? Download Boston Children’s concussion prevention guide.
As the fall sports ramps up, teen athletes across the country are donning shin guards and cleats, prepping to return to their beloved sport—soccer. A handful, however, are foregoing the ritual. One child sitting on the sidelines is the 13-year old daughter of Ken Reed, sports policy director of the League of Fans. Reed and his wife decided the risk of short- and long-term brain damage from subconcussive blows to the head outweighed the benefits of the sport. They pulled their daughter from the field, a decision Reed shared on this recent Huffington Post blog.
Studies seem to indicate a troubling trend. A research letter, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in late 2012, compared MRI exams of the brains of soccer players to swimmers and found differences in white matter integrity. White matter contains nerve fibers and connects areas of the brain responsible for different tasks, such as attention and memory.
MRI exams also showed amateur adult soccer players who headed the ball more frequently had white matter abnormalities similar to those found in players who suffered concussions, researchers reported in another study in Radiology.
Such studies attract a lot of media attention and may prompt some parents to consider pulling their children from the field. “It’s a personal decision. We have to consider the benefits of playing vs. the risks involved and make a decision from there,” says Meehan. …
Here’s a quick look at what Thrive was up to last week.
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