Soccer is without a doubt one of the most popular sports in the world. Hundreds of millions of amateurs play the sport. A new European study reveals soccer players have a high risk for head injury and mental impairment. Doctors say there's reason for concern. Neurologist Barry Jordon specializes in sports brain injuries. "Many lay people believe that soccer is not a contact sport," says Dr. Jordon. "However, the concussion rates in soccer sometimes approach the same frequency as football."
Dr. Jordan was part of a team of international researchers who put a small group of amateur soccer players through a series of mental functions tests. The results were compared to a group of runners and swimmers. "In our study, soccer players had more problems with memory and planning," he said. "Approximately three times as many soccer players had problems with planning and four times as many soccer players had problems with memory."
The study was published in this week's issue of the Journal of the American Association. Researchers say 39 per cent of the soccer players suffered moderate to severe impairment in planning ability tests. 27 per cent had similar levels of impairment on memory tests. Doctors blame the problems on soccer-related concussions; especially those caused by head's colliding or a player's head striking a goal post or the ground. "Anywhere from 20 to 50 per cent of soccer players may experience a concussion at some point in their career," said Dr. Jordan. "The importance of understanding concussions in soccer is that the athlete who sustains a concussion should be properly evaluated before returning to play."
So far researchers have not found a link between amateur players hitting the ball with their head and mental impairment. However, they did find heading was linked to poor mental performance among professional soccer players. As for kids, doctors say more studies are needed. Researchers don't know what kind of mental impact the ever-popular sport has on the brain of younger or less intense soccer players.
The symptoms of concussion include problems with memory, concentration, balance and feeling nauseous or weak. Doctors say most concussions will clear up with rest.