Soccer Balls Headers May Lead to Brain Damage

Sports head injuries are often in the news, especially as new research sheds more light on the specific risks faced by players. Most often the stories are centered on football players, because the very nature of the game is built on physical contact between players. However, there are many other sports frequently played by youth which offer similar risks of head injuries. A comprehensive assessment of brain injury risks in youngsters must take those alternative risks into account.

For example, a Fox News study yesterday discussed new research which found a significant risk of harm when soccer players “head” the soccer ball. Of course, soccer usually involves using feet to move the ball, but especially at more advanced levels, using one’s head while jumping to direct the ball is common. Yet, these common moves pose dangers of which many players and families may be unaware. According to the research highlighted in the article, even just a few headers a day can lead to a brain injury. This is troubling news considering that, even if players do not perform many headers in a game, virtually all athletes likely practice the headers consistently when not in a game. That practice maybe harmful.

The researchers used advanced MRI-based techniques to scan the brain of youth soccer players. Those scans were then compared against headers that the players made during the previous year. Results suggested that those who headed the ball most exhibited signs similar to patients who had suffered concussions. For amateur players who headed a ball between 1,000 to 1,500 times a year, the injuries were often significant. It is important to note that those figures represent only a few headers a day, which is not at all uncommon for those who play often-such as high school or college players.

Brain researchers have learned recently that while some small trauma may not cause damage in isolation, repeated small trauma may have the same effects as one significant trauma. The trauma of a single header cannot lacerate nerve fibers in the brain (a sign of injury), but repetitive headers can set off “a cascade of responses that can lead to degeneration of brain cells.”

The Chicago injury lawyers at our firm continue to encourage parents, coaches, schools officials, school trainers, referees, and all others involve in these activities to remain alert to these brain damage risks. The fact that these activities pose a risk of injury is not at all a suggestion that children should not be involved in these games. However, it does mean that there need to be logical procedures in place to prevent harm from going unnoticed or not taking reasonable steps which would keep players safe. The increased awareness of the issue and growing medical knowledge about the cause of the harm makes it even more important for these reasonable steps to be taken. For the vast majority of youth sports players, the games will end relatively early in their lives. It is never worth having lifelong problems because of basic safety errors committed during one of these games.

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