There’s lots of buzz about the risk of concussion in football. Some interesting solutions are being studied, like a football helmet with built in sensors that measure the force of impacts and can signal the need to assess for concussion.

Another great solution is the routine use of computerized neuropsychological tests, before any injury to serve as a baseline comparison, and then after a blow to the head to detect traumatic brain injury. Testing is done before the athletic season begins to establish a set of baseline scores. In the event of a significant head injury during the season, the test is repeated to see if there are any signs of decreasing function that have been found to be indicators of traumatic brain injury. We use this system at the NeuroDevelopment Center to work with athletes in our area.

You probably would not be surprised to hear that qEEG brain scans of heavyweight boxers reveal a great deal of brain damage. I once examined the EEG of a professional heavyweight boxer. The result of the repeated traumatic brain injury (TBI) was obvious. It was easy to see slow brainwave activity widespread in the brain, showing that there was greatly reduced activity in the brain.

I was certainly surprised however when I examined the EEG of another professional at the athlete that looked identical to that of the heavyweight boxer. I initially assumed that it was another heavyweight boxer. Sure looked the same.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. It was the EEG of a professional soccer player.

If you think about it, it shouldn’t really surprise us. The soccer ball is kicked long distances high in the air. At impacts the forehead of the soccer player heading the ball with very considerable force. It appears it may cause closed head traumatic brain injury.

This is why a number of years ago the Massachusetts state legislature tried to pass a bill requiring that helmets be worn by all youth soccer players. Unfortunately, preliminary research has suggested that these helmets are not effective in reducing the impact on the brain from heading.The American Academy of Pediatrics, in a consensus opinion paper published in the year 2000 suggested that research is needed to determine the degree of danger of head injury to two heading soccer:

“The potential for permanent cognitive impairment from heading the ball needs to be explored further. Currently, there seems to be insufficient published data to support a recommendation that young soccer players completely refrain from heading the ball. However, adults who supervise participants in youth soccer should minimize the use of the technique of heading the ball until the potential for permanent cognitive impairment is further delineated.”

At the time I studied these EEG’s, my daughter was playing high school soccer.  She was one of the taller players on her team. So I told her about what I’ve learned. I told her that I didn’t want her to head the ball anymore.

“Yeah, right, Papa.” (I might have heard something like that a few times before.)

High school over, my daughter is done playing soccer.

But knowing what I know now, “Yeah right, Papa” would not be the last word.  Organized sports are great for kids, no question. But heading the ball in soccer is not worth the possibility of lasting damage to brain function.