Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Concussions in Soccer Take Toll

There is a secret in soccer that is rarely discussed. This time, I'm not talking about FIFA corruption.

OK, I'll tell you.  Soccer can be a dangerous sport.  If you play the game long enough, you are going to get your bell rung.

Knocking heads while challenging for a header, taking a driven shot or pass to the noggin, and hitting your head on the ground after a fall happen all the time in competitive soccer.  Sometimes these mishaps lead to concussions or brain injuries.  But it's time to take note.  Recent studies have indicated that multiple concussions may lead to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig's disease.   This is scary stuff. 

Inside Minnesota Soccer has an excellent post that every player and coach should read immediately, before another game.

If you don't feel like clicking on the link, here are the symptoms to watch out for if you suspect a concussion:
  • Confusion, foggy/groggy feeling, sluggish
  • Dizzy, poor balance
  • Sensitivity to noise or light, blurry vision
  • Headache, feeling of pressure
  • Poor memory: can’t remember what they ate earlier that day, the score of the game, what happened, etc.
  • Poor coordination and concentration
  • Nausea/vomiting
If any of those symptoms appear, do not let the player continue playing!  They should be checked out by a doctor ASAP.

Fortunately, in the pro game, MLS has taken the dangers associated with concussions seriously from the early years of the league.  They've led the sports entertainment industry by enacted standard testing for concussion symptoms for years. 

Unfortunately, these types of steps haven't prevented players form being effected by the injuries.  The this list of MLS players who have been forced out of games or even forced to retire as a result of concussions reads like an all-star line-up.  Alecko Eskandarian, Josh Gross, Ross Paule, and Taylor Twellman are former USMNT players who have had their careers cut short by concussion related symptoms.
Eskandarian retired due to concussion syndrome.
Eskandarian told the Bergen Record last year, "I'm a soccer player through and through. If I could play, I would. Being an athlete my whole life, shutting it down is the worst type of torture.  At the same time, this is my brain. It's not a hamstring or an ankle. I don't care how tough you are. This about living a good life after soccer, as well. It's really unpredictable. There's no guarantee and you're forced to think about these things."

USMNT player and Columbus Crew star defender Chad Mashall is currently sitting out of preseason training and missed the recent CONCACAF Champions League match and will miss tonight's second leg because he had failed a concussion test after taking a shot to the head in practice.  He is expected to be back in time to play in this weekend's friendly in Chattanooga.

This is also a personal issue for me.  I've been playing the game for almost 35 years.  I'm certain that I've had at least 2 concussions in my playing career and it's likely that I've had more than that.  I once knocked head while challenging for a header and I knew immediately something was wrong.  The all white uniform I was wearing looked florescent yellow to me.  BAD SIGN!  I told my coach to take me out of the game right then.  Unfortunately, I was back playing the next day.  The other time, I was kicked in the head during a scrum in the penalty area.  I played the rest of the match and don't remember a thing about it.  NOT GOOD!

As a result, I keep an eye out on the concussion syndrome developments in the media.  It's not looking good for me there, I must admit.  I don't see any really overt problems, and I've always had the minor memory issues.  Then again, I can only remember two actual concussion events in my career.  So, maybe I'm not destined for ALS.

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