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3 Underappreciated Sports Concussion Causes


If you asked the people you know what they've heard in the news about sports concussions, they'd likely cite reports about concussion concerns related to professional American football. They aren't wrong. There are a multitude of studies, reports, opinion editorials and feelings on this very subject. While concussion in football should absolutely be taken seriously, it certainly isn't the only cause of concussion in sports. It's also important to remember that collisions and/or blunt force directly to the head isn't the only way a concussion can be sustained. In fact, falls remain the most significant cause of concussive head trauma. The type of athletic event notwithstanding, we can all probably agree that there's lots of falling in sports. As a sports neurologist, I want to make sure the public isn't so hyper-focused on concussion from collisions in football that we miss the variety of other ways that sports concussions happen – and perhaps more importantly, how we can be on the lookout for and safeguard against them.

Playing soccer. Players colliding with one another is typically considered the most common cause of diagnosed concussions in soccer players, and most concussion prevention efforts are designed with this "unintentional" head impact in mind. However, heading the ball – a technique that utilizes the head of the player to control the soccer ball during play – is actually an under-recognized cause of concussion symptoms in soccer players. Part of the issue is that many unintentional collisions or strikes from head-to-head, head-to-elbow or head-to-ground contact during attempts at heading the ball result in concussion. But even in the best of circumstances, heading the soccer ball is an intentional impact – meaning it's a chosen action and is in the player's complete control. A plethora of research is revealing that heading the ball isn't a benign or harmless head impact. In fact, a study recently published in the journal Frontiers in Neurology has revealed that players who headed the ball the most performed worse on attention and reaction time tests than those who headed the ball less often. The concern among researchers and neurology professionals alike is that even subtle reductions in neurological function, what we sometimes refer to as subconcussive events, can translate to microstructural changes in the brain that can lead to more pervasive or persistently impaired brain function later on. Because heading the ball is a potential cause of brain injury, and it's under the control of the player, these head injury consequences can be reduced or prevented through education and proper training of coaches, athletes and in the case of young soccer players, their parents.

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