EDMOND — For the past six days, Edmond has played host to the US Youth Soccer Region III Championships.
An estimated 208 teams and 3,600 athletes from 11 states participated in the weeklong event. In the first five days of competition, a variety of injuries were sustained including torn ACLs, broken bones and lacerations.
While the majority of players will leave the Region III Championships simply empty-handed, a number of players not only left without the trophy, but they also left Edmond concussed.
“We've seen quite a few concussions, probably at least 15 to 20 concussions,” Sports Medicine Director Joe Waldron said. “I would say (that number) is about average. … I have seen quite a few girls wearing head gear. I would say there's probably equal amounts, maybe actually more girls wearing it in the soccer that I've covered.”
While Waldron said the number of boys and girls he evaluated for concussions was equal this week, studies have shown that girls may be more prone to concussions. Women have smaller heads and less developed neck muscles than men, which may put girls at a disadvantage when they absorb the impact from heading a ball.
In 2012, the National High School Sports Related Injury Surveillance Study stated there were 92,171 reported concussions in high school soccer for the 2011-2012 school year. And among high school athletes, football players sustain the highest number of brain injuries, while girls' soccer players have the second highest the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.
“I think the girls' has something to do with the training on heading the ball,” Waldron said. “The girls don't like to head the ball, and so they're not trained properly. They always seem to flinch at the last second and absorb it in a different way than the guy does. And that I think has a lot to do with it.”
A person who sustains a concussion may experience headaches, dizziness, fatigue, drowsiness, visual and/or balance problems. More severe symptoms may include slurred speech, seizures and neck pain.
In soccer, most concussions are suffered when players have head-on collisions, their head hits the limb of another player or they fall on the ground head first. Studies are beginning to show, however, that “headers” are another contributor to head trauma for players and that repeated non-concussive blows can actually lead to full-blown concussions.
“First thing is, you remove them from play,” Waldron said of a concussed player. “You have to do a thorough exam of them. Doing neuro-cognitive, memorization, all kinds of different kinds of test just to make sure where we are in terms of consciousness (and) concussion. We don't allow them to return to play if they're not capable. And then once we've determined if they are able to return to play, we assess them for a little longer to make sure they don't start to regress.”
In 2012, Dr. Inga Katharina Koerte had a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that reported soccer players who repeatedly hit the ball with their heads may cause damage to their brains.
Koerte examined a dozen German professional soccer players' brain scans and found a pattern of damage to their brains that strongly resembled the brains of patients with mild traumatic brain injury.
Her team used diffusion tensor imaging, a high-resolution MRI technique, and observed that the white matter, or interior portion of the brain that carries signals from nerve cells to the spinal cord, had suffered damage and could not restrict the movement of water molecules within the brain tissue.
Neurologist Anne Sereno had a new study published in February where she compared the response time of 12 female varsity soccer players after practice to 12 female non-contact sports athletes.
Her research showed the soccer players displayed a 30-to-50-millisecond change in response time, which is in line with mild traumatic brain injury.
“There's been a lot of studies done on it,” Waldron said. “They're really starting to see a lot of things from athletes in the past. You're seeing the long-term effects of it: the brain damage, depression, dementia, the long lasting effects they weren't able to see in the past.”
Athletes can be proactive in lowering their chances of sustaining a concussion, however. To decrease the likeliness of future concussions, soccer players can wear head guards.
Full 90 Sports, Inc., which manufactures the Full 90 Performance Headguard, is the largest global producer of head guards. Premier League goalie Petr Cech of the Chelsea Football Club is the most famous soccer player to sport the gear.
Full 90 Performance Headguard complies with FIFA, US Soccer and the National Federation of State High School Associations regulations.
Scott Delaney of McGill University, reported that players not wearing protective soccer headgear were 2.65 times more likely to suffer a concussion than those who did, but Dr. Waldron explained there is still no scientifically proven way to prevent concussions.
“I don’t think (head gear) can prevent it,” the 43-year-old said. “I think it can, in a way, cut down on some of the impact that the head absorbs. I think if you get hit hard enough, your brain being a gelatinous mass is going to shift in the skull, and you’re going to have issues with that.“ (Coaches) have a large influence on (players). A lot of kids feel like if their coach won’t support them if they think they have concussion or think they’re being a baby, then they won’t tell the coach. That becomes an issue, because when the coach doesn’t know, we don’t know either as athletic trainers, and those kids are playing out there, putting themselves at risk. ...The coaches have to realize and let the kids know it’s OK to tell me when you’re hurt.”
CONCUSSIONS BY THE NUMBERS
*Girls playing high school soccer suffer concussions 68 percent more often than boys playing the same sport (Winter 2007-2008 edition of Journal of Athletic Training)
*Girls appear more susceptible to concussions in sports like soccer and basketball than boys (Winter 2007-2008 edition of Journal of Athletic Training)
*One study of collegiate soccer players found that females had 26 percent less total mass in their head and neck than males
*Roughly 40 percent of soccer concussions are the result of collisions between players. (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission)
*Approximately 13 percent are due to headers. (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission)
*Female soccer players are twice as likely to get concussed as males. (British Journal of Sports Medicine)
*Players not wearing protective soccer headgear were 2.65 times more likely to suffer a concussion than those who did, and the frequency of lacerations, contusions and abrasions was reduced in players wearing headgear. (Scott Delaney of McGill University)