Potential for concussions in soccer a cause for concern

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November 20th, 2015

Macaela Steinke had her soccer career cut short due to concussions. (Photo Courtesy Brandon McDermott)

Macaela Steinke had her soccer career cut short due to concussions. (Photo Courtesy Brandon McDermott)

The number of high school students playing soccer in Nebraska has been steadily on the rise over the past 15 years. Also rising is the number of concussions reported in connection with the sport. KVNO’s Brandon McDermott takes a look at the consequences of head concussions while competing in soccer.


 

When it comes to soccer, the casual spectator may not realize that the game has serious issues associated with head concussions. Soccer isn’t normally seen as a high impact physical sport; most see soccer as a game of endurance and athleticism, which it is. But the probability of receiving a concussion while playing soccer is higher than one might think.

Dr. Ross Mathiasen is the Sports Medicine Physician at Nebraska Medicine. He said a lot has changed over the years when it comes to head trauma and concussions in sports, especially soccer.

“So I guess the biggest change is that we recognize this,” Dr. Mathiasen said. “You know some of the epidemiology of concussions is very difficult to kind of get to the bottom of now heaving because so many of the episodes ago and reported.”

Dr. Mathiasen said getting a head concussion is always a serious matter. But worse than that, he said, is compounding concussions.

“Being more cautious in return to play is the other issue. When a lot of the traumatic events happen is when people get the second impact syndrome so it’s when they get a concussion on top of a concussion so they haven’t fully recovered from the first one.”

Tim Bennett is the Executive Director of Omaha Football Club, a youth soccer league. He is also an assistant coach for the women’s soccer team at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He said his youth league goes through similar concussion protocols as the college players.

“So our kids aren’t brought back by a coach that just says ‘hey you’re okay, you’re fine now.’ We actually have professionals to go through, (which is) very similar to UNO, we have ‘return to play’ protocol with our training staff,” Bennett said.

He said though heading has been nixed for youth soccer, it’s still it’s still a major part of the game and will always be.

“I think it’s how it’s being introduced. When it’s being introduced and then how often it’s being introduced.”

Bennett said with the increase in interest for youth soccer in the state, the awareness of concussions is also up. There is also a change which he thinks will have a big impact going forward.

“But I do think there are a lot more parents my age that are pushing their kids toward soccer as opposed to football.”

According to the Nebraska School Activities Association, the number of participants playing boys soccer has risen 23 percent from 2000-2014. In that same span the number of girls playing soccer has risen nearly 26 percent. Meanwhile high school football figures in the state have fallen 10 percent since 2000. Bennett thinks this can be attributed, at least partially, to concerned parents.

“They say once you get one it’s easier to get more,” Steinke said. “So I think maybe I have had a minor concussion before and just didn’t know it – just from headers.”

That’s Macaela Steinke. She is a senior midfielder at College of Saint Mary. Steinke had her soccer career cut short this year due to concussions. But like in her case, the ball hit her in the head when she wasn’t looking for it. A soccer ball can travel at nearly 60 mph when kicked.

“I do remember both of them. The first one was during the game I just got hit in the head by the ball. I just remember feeling just kind of loopy after that and light headed and I had an instant headache. I actually had a blind spot in my vision where I like couldn’t see out of my right eye for like a good thirty minutes, which is pretty scary.”

Macaela suffered from ‘post-concussion syndrome’ which lasted for 4 or 5 months following her first known concussion. The symptoms included, dizzy spells, sensitivity to light and headaches. She was cleared to play after completing concussion therapy to start this season of competitive play. Then Steinke suffered a second concussion and was ruled ‘medically ineligible’ to play soccer by her physician. She said she still suffers headaches occasionally which can be excruciating.

“I would just say that it’s very serious and you shouldn’t take it lightly because it affects not only your playing skills but also, like with school, I had hard time studying because I have headaches. It’s just very serious. You only get one brain.”

Dr. Mathiasen said it’s important for the players to speak up when they think they’ve received a concussion. He thinks there is a downside of limiting how many concussions a player can have before they have to hang up the cleats.

“It disincentives the athlete from telling us when they have symptoms (of a concussion). So they don’t tell us that they have symptoms they’re at risk for that second impact or the concussion on top of the concussion.”

He said most concussions in girls’ soccer happen when two players collide on the pitch, though about a quarter of the reported head concussions occur when the player uses their head to keep the ball in play.

“You know nothing that we can do will prevent concussions entirely. No equipment that we have will do that either.”

Steinke hopes to finish her degree in nursing at CSM. Though her days of playing soccer are over, she stills supports the team and loves the game. Dr. Mathiasen said research is being done to fully understand the long term impact of multiple concussions on growing brains.

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