Understanding Concussions in Soccer

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During the Champion’s League match between Tottenham and Ajax, Jan Vertonghen suffered a concussion but was allowed to return to the field to continue playing. This has been a troubling trend in the sport and FIFPro, the global representative body for soccer players, has called for changes to be made to the rules to ensure the safety of their players.

It's not just professional players who get injured. Children who play the sport are at risk too. Here’s what you need to know about concussions and how to protect your little ones while they’re doing what they love.

Concussion Protocols

FIFPro is pushing for several changes. Among them are an independent doctor on staff to assess player’s injuries during the game. This will eliminate potential bias or motivation to put players back in when they’re injured with a concussion.

“It takes at least ten minutes to properly diagnose whether or not someone has a concussion,” says certified athletic trainer, Michael Dougherty. “Currently, the rules in soccer only allot three minutes for diagnosis if a player suffers a head injury.”

The chief medical officer for FIFPro, Dr. Vincent Gouttebarge, agrees. He called the current time limit “ridiculous” and is pushing for changes to be made to the rules to allow for proper assessment of concussions.

In 2013, Hugo Lloris suffered a concussion during a match and the rules were changed after to allow team doctors to overrule coaches on whether players could go back to playing. Although this was a step in the right direction, it still leaves room for bias from the team doctor. That’s one of the reasons why FIFPro is calling for independent doctors to assess concussion injuries along with the ten minutes to do so properly.

“The pressure on the team doctor must be intense, as everyone from the coach, the player themselves and the fans want to see them back on the field,” says Dougherty. “This is why it’s so important to have an independent doctor on the field to make these calls. There should also be timeouts that don’t penalize or disadvantage the team with an injured player. Mandatory temporary substitutions while the concussion is being assessed would be a good change, too.”

A study performed after the 2018 World Cup showed that, on average, there was one concussion per game. This same study showed that team doctors only spent between 15 and 180 seconds diagnosing concussions, nowhere near the ten minutes required to fully assess a head trauma.

Concussions in Children’s Soccer

“Children are at a much higher risk of concussion because their brain is still developing and doesn’t fully mature until age 25,” explains Dougherty. “Their neck musculature also isn’t developed which makes sustaining a concussion that much easier.”

There’s currently a lot of discussion and debate about whether heading the ball should be allowed in children’s soccer, due to the chance of concussion. Some leagues already ban it for certain ages. These changes are similar to changes being made in other youth sports to make them safer like having a maximum pitch count for baseball pitchers or banning checking in hockey.

“Most of the concussions you see in soccer when attempting to head the ball, and instead collide head-to-head, head-to-shoulder with another player or head-to-ground contact,” says Dougherty. “Children do sustain concussions from heading the ball incorrectly. It’s important to have rules in place to protect our children and ensure they can go on to play the sport they love for years to come.”

Concussion Symptoms

After a concussion, it can be very difficult to concentrate, and cognitive and motor functions may be damaged. For a mild concussion, the healing process can take 10 days or more, and a severe concussion can take significantly longer.

At AdventHealth we have specially trained concussion therapists to help your child recover from their injury. Our Return to Learn program can assist your child in transitioning back to the classroom with minimal disruptions after a concussion and Return to Play ensures they’re healthy enough to return to competitive sports play.

To speak with a concussion specialist about the risks of concussion or if your child has suffered a possible concussion and you’d like to have them evaluated, please visit our site or call Call407-303-8012.

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