Preventing Head Injuries When “Heading” the Soccer Ball
When was the last time you heard of a soccer player being compared to a boxer? Studies have shown that soccer players sustain cumulative head injuries from improper heading of the ball, very similar to those injuries seen in boxers.
Heading requires the individual to sustain the full impact of the ball to the top of the head with no protection or estimate of the ball’s speed. Improper heading can damage the blood vessels and nervous tissue of the brain as the force of the ball causes the brain to move within the skull. One of the most common head injuries that can occur is a concussion, which can be mild to severe.
A concussion is when there has been minimal structure damage to the brain, which causes an interruption of its function. With a concussion there is usually a short-lived period of disorientation and/or loss of consciousness. Depending on the force of the impact, a concussion can be mild to very severe.
Head injuries account for up to 22% of all soccer injuries, most of these occurring as a result of heading the ball. It appears that many of the effects of improper heading are cumulative and long lasting, with up to 30% of former players complaining of permanent headaches, dizziness, irritability and impaired memory. The results of diagnostic tests such as electroencephalography (EEG), computed tomography (CT) and neuropsychological examinations show vast similarities of head injuries associated with heading the ball in soccer and head injuries common in boxing.
Tips To Prevent Heading Injuries
- Use a plastic-coated ball. Unlike older leather balls, plastic-coated balls do not absorb water, which can greatly increase the weight of the ball.
- Keep the head in a rigid position. This helps absorb the force of the impact of the ball and helps prevent the whiplash effect to the neck.
- Strike the ball with the upper forehead. This area of the skull has added protection for the brain and limits the potential of injury to the cervical spine as well.
Heading is an integral part of soccer, but it must be done right to prevent injury. Over the course of the season, the player will head the ball hundreds of times, and if done improperly, this may lead to cumulative damage to the brain. Improvements in equipment and proper coaching techniques are imperative to protect players from potential injury.
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