Recognizing the dangers of concussions in soccer

By Adam Roseberry
Staff Writer


That one word is one of the scariest things an athlete can hear after a blow to a head. Some that suffer concussions are back to normal in days. Others can miss months. Be it days or months, athletes who suffer a concussion receive a form of brain damage, the long term effects of which modern medicine knows frighteningly little about.

Concussions are easy to define from a medical standpoint.

“A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth,” according to the CDC website.

Unfortunately, the short and long term damage dealt by a concussion is much more difficult to quantify.

The first sport the average person thinks of when hearing the word concussion is football. In a game where violence is the product, not a byproduct, head injuries abound and have been well documented. Ice hockey and rugby also come to mind. Sports dedicated to violent hits rank atop a twisted leaderboard.

But the next highest concussion causing sport might be a bit of a surprise. It’s the most popular sport on the planet, known for the grace and poetry of its movement. World-renowned athlete Pelé famously called it “the beautiful game.” 


According to a PUBMED scientist peer review, nearly 22 percent of all soccer injuries are concussions, a not so beautiful number for a game that crosses borders and has an overwhelming global appeal.

“Soccer is a sport not traditionally identified as high-risk for concussions,” the PUBMED experts wrote. “Yet several studies have shown that concussion rates in soccer are comparable to, and often exceed those of, other contact sports.”

In another study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics, it was determined that girl’s soccer had the second highest rate of concussions in high school sports, behind football.

Soccer concussions result from either body to body contact or the process of “heading” the ball. In heading the ball, a player forcibly uses their head to hit and direct the ball.

“If the ball has too high of a pressure, gets too waterlogged, or both, it actually turns into a weapon,” Eric Nauman, Purdue University professor of mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering, told Kayla Wiles, Purdue senior science writer. “Heading that ball is like heading a brick.”

However, a study by Purdue University engineers seems to suggest there may be a way to fix the problem of concussions in soccer.

“Inflating balls to pressures on the lower end of ranges enforced by soccer governing bodies such as the NCAA and FIFA could reduce forces associated with potential head injury by about 20%,” Wiles said.

While there is no way to fully eliminate concussions in soccer, perhaps the solution is to slightly lower the pressure in an inflated soccer ball.

Concussions have always been present in soccer, this is not new. However, the rate of concussions in the sport is truly terrifying given the relative unknown long term effects of concussions. 

In 2015, when asked about the seriousness of a concussion in terms of brain damage, neurosurgeon Dr. Greg Hawryluk told The Scope podcast the sobering truth, “we really don’t know.”

“We don’t think that a concussion implies a structural injury to the brain,” Hawryluk said. “We still think that it’s probably sort of a chemical imbalance. But there’s no question that we do think it puts you at risk for ongoing damage to the brain, perhaps over the rest of your life.”

Concussions are no laughing matter. Over one fifth of all soccer injuries are concussion. Perhaps there’s no way to rid the sport of concussions. But as acclaimed writer Robin Sharma once said, “The only failure is not trying.”