July 18, 2013

Tips for keeping kids safe from soccer concussions

When it comes to high school sports, concussions aren't confined to the football field.

When it comes to high school sports, concussions aren't confined to the football field.

Soccer players – especially girls – also experience the dizziness, nausea, blurry vision and headaches that can accompany head trauma.

A 2013 report from the American Academy of Neurology found that football has the highest rate of concussions in high school sports (1.55 per 1,000 games), with girls soccer placing second (0.97 per 1,000 games).

In recognition of Sacramento Soccer Day presented by the UC Davis Children's Hospital – with events at Raley Field including England's Norwich City playing Mexico's Dorados de Sinaloa tonight – The Bee asked the Sports Legacy Institute, a Boston-based nonprofit organization focused on the prevention and treatment of sports-related brain injuries, to talk soccer safety.

SLI co-founder and executive director Christopher Nowinski had this to offer:

What do parents need to know about soccer and head injuries?

Well, soccer is a great sport, but it does have some risk of concussion. The primary concern in concussions is after the attempt of "heading" the ball. There's also a newer concern about the risk of damage caused by the repetition of headers. Some early studies are starting to show brain changes on soccer players who have not had concussions but have had a lot of headers.

What should parents keep an eye out for if they think their child has suffered a concussion?

Every parent should make sure that their child understands what a concussion is, what the signs and symptoms are; that it's very important for them to speak up when they have a (concussion). The most common symptoms are headaches, dizziness, confusion, blurry vision, ringing of their ears, feeling lethargic. Most concussions are not diagnosed when they occur. They won't likely be diagnosed until later on that night or the next day.

Girls high school soccer is second in sports-related concussions. Why do you think that is?

Most likely, the contributor to that is neck strength. Men tend to have stronger necks, and a stronger neck can help reduce the risk of a concussion by slowing down the moving of your head. There are other possible reasons, but that's the primary one.

Doctors often warn about "second impact syndrome" with concussions. Can you explain what that is?

Second impact syndrome is when somebody who suffered a concussion receives another blow to the head before the concussion is resolved. That causes rapid swelling of the brain, and in 50 percent of cases, it causes death. It happens to a handful of high school athletes every year.

How does one successfully recover from a concussion?

Every child with a concussion should be under the care of a physician. Knowing that you can never predict when a child will recover, parents should look out for doctors who say the (child) will be fine and 'back in two weeks.' They should seek out concussion specialists.

Headaches, problems concentrating and depression can persist months after a concussion. Have you seen children who had to retire from the sport at an early age?

I've seen children who have had to retire by the age of 12 years old because of concussions and can't play the sport again. We just had a 12-year-old girl come in from Tennessee. She's got to get treatment for post-concussion syndrome that she's had since the fall. She'll never play soccer again. We're hopeful that the symptoms will go away, eventually.

Any other safety tips for parents?

Children don't understand the word "concussion" very well. So what you'll find (is that) athletes will report symptoms but they don't put the word concussion to it. If you ask if they've suffered a concussion, they'll say "no." But if you ask if they were hit in the head and saw stars or got dizzy, they'll say "yes."

So they should talk to their children in terms of symptoms and not necessarily using the word "concussion."

For more about keeping children safe from concussions, visit


What: Two exhibition matches

When: Gates open at 4 p.m. today

Where: Raley Field

Who: San Jose Earthquakes reserves vs. Sacramento all-star team, 5 p.m.; Norwich City of the English Premiere League vs. Mexico's Dorados de Sinaloa, 7:30 p.m.

Tickets: Raley Field box office or


Call The Bee's Kristopher Rivera, (916) 321-1101 Follow him on Twitter @kgrivera.

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