Although there is no traditional season in youth soccer, most states play a fall and spring season. As our children get ready to cleat-up this spring, let’s remind ourselves to play safe. Though soccer is perceived as less violent than collision sports such as football, head trauma and brain injuries are commanding more attention.
Did you know that The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates there were over 10,000 visits each year from 2001 to 2009 for soccer-related traumatic brain injuries in kids under 19? Since 2000, there has been a dramatic increase in the diagnosis of concussion among pediatric athletes. Estimates suggest that sports and recreational activities account for 25 to 50 percent of concussions that report to the Emergency Department. The incidence of concussion is highest among boys playing collision sports such as American football, ice hockey and lacrosse. Among girls, the sports are soccer, lacrosse and field hockey.
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is sudden damage to the brain, usually caused by a direct blow to the head, face or neck, or elsewhere to the body with a force transmitted to the head. TBIs are classified as mild, moderate or severe.
Common causes include car accidents, falls, sports injuries and assaults. Injuries can range from mild concussions that usually do not cause permanent brain injury to severe, permanent brain damage. The consequences of a brain injury can affect all aspects of a child’s life: physical and mental.
The Amazing Brain
Imagine this: The brain is a soft organ trapped in a hard container (the skull) with only a few teaspoons of fluid between them, acting as a watery cushion. A direct blow to the head causes a primary injury, whereby the brain crashes back and forth inside the skull. This motion can cause bruising, bleeding and tearing of nerve fibers.
Immediately after such an incident, a child can be confused, suffer from visual changes and memory loss or lose consciousness. Initially, a child may appear fine, but his condition can decline rapidly if the injury is severe. After the initial impact occurs, the brain can undergo a delayed trauma; it swells, pushing itself against that hard container of the skull and potentially causing injury to parts of the brain not initially injured. This is called secondary injury, which is often more damaging than the primary one.
The most common symptoms of a concussion include:
Nausea and/or vomiting
Mental slowness and/or mental “fog”
An Ounce of Prevention
There are many who are working to improve the stats. The push for reforming athletics in the U.S. is coming from parents, players, medical experts and safety advocates, who are discussing a number of changes at the youth level including:
Increasing the presence of athletic trainers at matches
Educating coaches and parents of best head safety practices
Developing a greater scientific understanding of head trauma in soccer
There is even a push to minimize or eliminate heading (shooting or passing with the head) before high school. Interestingly, top of the head impact is significantly more likely to cause loss of consciousness than front of the head or side of the head impact. The understanding is that because a child’s brain is still developing, recurring brain injuries become more likely each time a child suffers a concussion.
Keep Austin Thinking
Learning and conversation about the effects and management of concussions are necessary to promote life-long brain health and wellness. With that in mind, the Healthy Brain Foundation, in partnership with Dell Children’s Medical Center, will host its annual Concussion Conference here in Austin in the spring. This event will attract healthcare and education professionals from a variety of disciplines, as well as community stakeholders. As roughly 8 million of our youth head for the soccer field this season, I hope they’ll all play safe!
Dr. Lamia Kadir is a board certified family physician in private practice in Austin.