New research shows that girls who play soccer in middle school are especially vulnerable to suffering concussions and that many play through their injury, increasing the risk of a second concussion, despite medical advice to the contrary.
A professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health in Seattle, Dr. Melissa Schiff, the study's co-author, noted that although awareness has increased about sports concussions, little research has been done on middle school athletes — and especially girls. Schiff and her colleagues found 59 concussions in the study, which evaluated 351 soccer players between the ages of 11 and 14. A traumatic injury to the brain after a blow, shaking or spinning can be referred to as a concussion. The girls' symptoms included headache, dizziness, drowsiness and concentration problems as revealed by the study. Schiff said that the rate of injuries is higher than what has been reported at either high school or college level of women's soccer.
About 30% of the injuries were caused by heading the ball. Contact with another player led to more than half of the concussions. Those who have a concussion be evaluated by a doctor or other health care professional trained in the injury as experts recommend. However, "56 percent were never evaluated" as Schiff found out. In addition, she said that 58% of the players in the study continued to play even with symptoms persisting despite experts advising that players not return to practice or games until symptoms disappear.
Schiff claimed that awareness about the dangers of concussions has increased beginning with the National Football League's attention to the problem. Additionally, she said research about concussions has slowly increased to encompass college-level, high school, and now middle school players.
As Kathleen Doheny of Health.com reports, with so many injuries blamed on heading the ball, the question that remains is whether soccer should be banned. That would be unrealistic according to Schiff.
"It's part of the soccer sport," she said.
According to Schiff, teaching middle school athletes heading in practice but telling them not to do it in games until they are older would be one suggestion. Researchers speculate that increased risk could be from younger players' less mature brains, weaker neck muscles and poorer heading technique.
The new study "calls attention to the high incidence of concussion in this age group," said Dr. John Kuluz, director of traumatic brain injury and neurorehabilitation at Miami Children's Hospital.
Kuluz said that it's not surprising that the percentage of injuries blamed on heading the ball is significant. He also noted that colliding with another player can cause a head injury. He also advises that heading the ball should be avoided by young athletes who have had a concussion and that parents should pay attention to their child during and after soccer.
"In the event of an injury, pay attention to symptoms," Kuluz said.
In addition, he said a young athlete must be evaluated by a doctor or trainer who has experience with concussions in case of a suspected injury.