The impact of concussions in sport are no longer a secret. Recent high-profile lawsuits brought against the National Football League and National Hockey Leagues by former players have brought international attention to what has become an epidemic in contact sports.
Despite the increased attention being paid to the causes, effects, prevention methods and treatments of head trauma in high-impact sports like football and hockey, relatively little research has been done on traditionally less physical sports like soccer, or the effects of repetitive low-impact hits to the head.
Researchers from Western University hope to change this. Alexandra Harriss, a doctoral student in the Faculty of Health Sciences under the co-supervision of Jim Dickey, PhD, and Dave Walton, PhD, is working with the Ontario Player Development League (OPDL) and Burlington Youth Soccer Club (BYSC) to study the relationship between accumulated head impact exposures in youth soccer players and changes in brain function.
Using headbands containing GForceTracker™ micro-sensors, Harriss tracks impacts that players receive during all practices and games throughout the 2016 season, which include impacts such as head-to-ball, head-to-head, and head-to-ground. These impacts are monitored in real-time using a tablet computer from the sidelines, and can be immediately assessed.
“Our understanding of concussion comes a lot from football, but the nature of head impacts in soccer are different, primarily because players aren’t wearing helmets in soccer,” Harriss said. “And this is the purpose of our study, to understand those differences, and reduce the incidence of head injury.”
With only preliminary results so far, Harriss hypothesizes that the largest impacts the soccer players receive will come from incidents of player-to-player contact or player-to-ground contact, but she hopes that by collecting and examining the data they will be able to determine where the risks truly lie and reduce the incident of head injury in soccer.
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