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.
For the last few years, concussions have been on the forefront of the minds of parents, coaches and athletes across the country, as their risks and prevalence become more well-known. This increase in visibility has raised a lot of concern about both the immediate and potential long-term effects of concussions sustained by children and adolescents. Luckily, research efforts have also increased, leading to a better understanding of how concussions should be managed in young athletes.
At the 5th International Conference on Concussion in Sport held in Berlin, Germany, physicians and researchers around the world came together to collaborate on the treatment of sport-related concussions.
One of the outcomes of the conference was a change in the suggested concussion return to play guidelines, a decision that was based on a vast array of research and scientific consensus from multiple institutions, including Boston Children’s.
I am a 15-year-old rising high school junior.
I suffered a severe concussion in April 2013 while playing soccer and continue to experience daily intermittent headaches, nausea, fatigue, dizziness and memory deficits. Before my concussion, I was an avid soccer player — I played on three teams including a competitive club team — and also played tennis, hockey, and skied.
I definitely underestimated the severity of my concussion. I went to school the next day and was diagnosed when the baseline test at school revealed red flags. Still, I continued to underestimate. I pressured myself to get back to my soccer team and to keep up in school.
I’ve learned a few important lessons during my recovery. …
Football remains one of the most popular sports for young athletes. But concerns about football injuries are at an all-time high. Many of these concerns focus on head and neck injuries, which account for approximately 5 to 13 percent of overall football injuries. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), on Oct. 25, released a policy statement on tackling in youth football.
Dr. William Meehan, from the Boston Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine Division, co-wrote the statement. He offers five recommendations to help keep youth players safe and healthy and minimize their risk for head and neck injuries.
Play by the rules.
Make sure coaches and officials enforce football rules. Research shows that a significant number of concussions and catastrophic injuries occur because of improper and illegal contact, says Meehan. There should be zero tolerance for head-first hits. Meehan, along with the AAP, suggests stronger sanctions, up to expulsion from the game, for offenders.
Work with your youth football program to reduce the number of hits to the head.
The health effects of sub-concussive blows remain unclear, but limiting impacts to the head may reduce the risk of long-term health problems such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
Get familiar with the pros and cons of delaying the age at which tackling is introduced.
Though delaying the introduction of tackling would likely curb the risk of injuries at younger ages, the risks might be higher when tackling is introduced at older ages. That’s because older players are stronger, bigger, and faster, and if they have not previously learned how to tackle and absorb a tackle, they may be at increased risk of injury.
No matter what age tackling is introduced, players should be instructed in proper tackling techniques. But delaying the tackling age prompts a catch-22. “It may be very difficult to teach these skills in a noncontact situation,” notes Meehan.
Build neck strength.
Strength and conditioning exercises that build the neck muscles are likely to reduce a player’s risk of concussion. That’s because a stronger neck may limit the acceleration of the head after impact, which is one factor contributing to concussion, explains Meehan.
Advocate for athletic trainers.
The presence of athletic trainers during football games and practice may help reduce the incidence of injuries. Athletic trainers provide medical management to injured athletes, but also ensure proper hydration, warm-up and injury prevention measures.
Download the Boston Children’s Sports Medicine Football Injury Prevention Guide.