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Concussion Risk in Soccer is just as high as in Football

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With spring soccer season gearing up, California players and coaches are hitting the pitch, and many are unaware of the heightened potential for concussions inherent in the sport.

“People don’t realize it, but we see just as many concussions in soccer as in football, says Matthew Pecci, MD, a sports medicine physician at Muir Orthopaedic Specialists in Walnut Creek. “And as kids get a little bigger and a little faster, the incidence of concussions increases. We start seeing it at 9 or 10 years of age now a days.”

Common soccer injuries are strains in the lower extremities, excessive use in lower extremities, falls which affect the upper extremities, head, neck, and face injuries. The results are cartilage tears, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tendinitis, sprains, fractures, and shoulder dislocation.

“Concussions make up three percent of all soccer injuries, according to a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which suggests that the actual figure may be high due to under reporting. Because of the lack of awareness by players, coaches and parents to a potential concussion, concussed players may stay in the game and not receive proper treatment, say Pucci.”

Early recognition of symptoms is key, says Pucci. A player may head the ball hard, have a little dizziness and headaches afterwards, but think that’s just a normal part of heading. But that can be a sign of concussion, especially if it doesn’t clear quickly. It’s the same with other head contact in the game.

Data show that padded headgear and the use of mouth guards do not reduce the risk of concussion. Coaching proper heading techniques can help, but because of the nature of the game--players running fast with their heads down looking at the ball--collisions are inevitable.

Player-to-player collisions rather than purposeful heading cause most concussions. Head-to-head contact often occurs when two players try to head a ball. Head to knee contact and being knocked down causing the head to hit the ground can also result in concussions, says Pecci.

Soccer concussions can also occur from sudden acceleration and deceleration, he says. When a player is running fast and is stopped quickly, his or her head motion stops quickly and jars the brain in the close space of the skull. This trauma is similar to the head hitting the ground or another player.

Pecci, a former Director of Sports Medicine at Boston University, indicates, kids on the West coast are having much more exposure to potential concussion situations. The soccer season is year round on the West and soccer participation is much more prevalent.

Because of this heightened exposure and the fact that avoiding concussions in soccer is difficult, it's crucial for adults and players to be attuned to the danger of concussion. Unfortunately, that danger is often overlooked, says Pecci.

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