New Research Links Soccer to Traumatic Brain Injuries

When attention focuses on the question of sports and traumatic brain injuries we usually think of football, hockey or boxing. A new study from Boston University, however, highlights the potential TBI dangers of a sport we do not often think of as violent: soccer.

As outlined by the New York Times earlier this week, the study focuses on “encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease linked to repeated blows to the head” which, it reports, “has been found posthumously in a 29-year-old former soccer player, the strongest indication yet that the condition is not limited to athletes who played sports known for violent collisions.” Equally intriguingly, the newspaper notes that the soccer player died of ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and offers evidence that the repeated head trauma involved in soccer may have played a role in his development of the disease at the relatively young age of 27.

The man mentioned in the article was a top-level college and semi-pro soccer player. The Times quotes his parents remembering his love of the game, and the pride he took at being good at heading the ball. It quotes a doctor who performed a brain examination after the player’s death saying that he had “extensive frontal lobe damage” of a type more commonly associated with football than soccer. The article cautions that there is no way to establish an irrefutable link between the game and these brain injuries, but the BU study concludes that this, and other data, are cause for both concern and for further study.

A doctor from Brigham Young University quoted in the article notes that one’s brain does not reach its full development until a person is approximately 25 years old. “Some youth soccer organizations have warned against practicing heading until players reach a certain age, usually between 10 and 14. Some scientists believe those ages are somewhat arbitrary, but they understand that parents want to know whether their children should be allowed to head soccer balls” the paper reports.

As an Oregon traumatic brain and spinal cord injury lawyer I recommend this article (link below) to any parent with a child involved in youth sports. While it offers few definitive answers, it raises a number of serious issues that all of us as parents need to keep in mind when it comes to sports and our kids.

The New York Times: Brain Trauma Extends to Soccer Field