Soccer Heading Tied To Brain Damage?

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By: Dr. John Conde DC, DACNB Special to the Boca and Delray newspapers

Soccer is the fastest growing and most popular sport worldwide.  In the United States, the number of soccer players has steadily increased since 2009 with almost 15 million participants.  Particularly in the youth, soccer has sky rocketed in participation. Parents enjoy the dimensions of exercise, teamwork, discipline, and low injury probability soccer affords their children.  However, with the recent increased awareness of head injuries and the discovery of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) in American football and hockey players, many are questioning whether heading (impacting a soccer ball with your head) repeatedly can cause brain damage.

In navigating through the research, it is apparent that most of the concussive injuries secondary to heading occur in youth soccer as opposed to college and professional soccer.  There are many variables including why this finding exists including neck size, neck strength, head size, skull thickness, brain maturation, visual field awareness, technique, and hand-eye coordination.  It is evident than in the youth population most of these variables do not favor them as full development has not been reached. Another interesting fact is that female youth exhibit a higher concussive rate than male youth. Researchers believe this may be due to differing cervical spine musculature and skull thickness between males and females. In general, what the research did indicate is that heading is a serious concern for head injuries however it is not the most common cause of concussion in soccer players. Head to head or head to limb impacts are the most common causes of head injuries in soccer.

The application of these research findings in relation to headers are of paramount importance especially concerning the youth population. Some general implementations include the following; heading should not be permitted until high school to allow for maturation, heading technique should be taught early, neck strengthening exercises should be incorporated into every youth program, health clearance should be mandatory to eliminate predisposing factors, visuo-spatial training should be incorporated into the youth programs, and screening for head size.  Unfortunately, these practices are not yet completely being implemented in youth soccer, so it is important for the parents to take initiative and talk to the coaches and heads of these organizations.

In case a concussive episode does occur, it is important to seek medical attention immediately.  Chiropractic neurologists have extensive training in concussion diagnosis and management and use evidence-based, state-of-the-art technology.  One of the most advanced applications is a medical device called the Dynavision D2.  The Dynavision D2 is a revolutionary diagnostic and rehabilitative tool. It works on visuo-motor, neuro-cognitive and spatial skills as well as on a neurological process termed “efferent copy.” The user is required to manually compress targets made up of 64 LED lights that are blinking in a strategically established manner according to the neurological presentation of the person. The information is recorded and attention is placed on speed and sequence.

Dr. John Conde is a Board Certified Chiropractic Neurologist, one of only one thousand in the country. He holds diplomate status through the American Chiropractic Neurology Board. He provides specialized care for difficult cases of back neck pain, numbness-tingling, vertigo-dizziness balance disorders, fibromyalgia, migraines, AD/HD, autism, and dyslexia. His office is located at the Atlantic Grove in Delray Beach, FL and can be reached at 561-330-6096, drconde@thecondecenter.com, and at www.thecondecenter.com