Teenage soccer players who wear protective headgear suffer nearly half as many concussions as those who play without protective headgear, according to a new study conducted by researchers at Canada's McGill University.
Researchers followed 250 adolescent (ages 12 to 17) soccer players during the 2006 season. They found that 53 percent of those who did not wear protective soccer headgear suffered concussions compared to 27 percent of those who wore safety gear.
The study, published in the July 2007 issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine, also found that:
- Nearly half of the players (47.8%) experienced symptoms of concussion during the 2006 season.
- Approximately 4 out of 5 athletes did not realize that they had suffered a concussion (most likely because they believed, erroneously, that concussion required loss of consciousness)
- Multiple concussions were less frequent among the concussed athletes (50.0%) who wore protective headgear than those who did not (69.3%).
- Nearly one-quarter (23.9%) of players suffering concussions experienced symptoms for at least one day or longer.
- Female soccer players were at increased risk of suffering concussions.
- Female soccer players not wearing protective headgear were also at increased risk of suffering other kinds of head injuries, such as abrasions, lacerations or contusions on areas of the head that otherwise would have been covered by the headgear.
Should parents consider soccer headgear?
The McGill study is the first "to say that soft protective headgear for soccer significantly decreased the number of concussions for those athletes," said lead researcher, Dr. Scott Delaney in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Company. Delaney hopes the study will prompt parents to consider headgear for their children.
The new study may also prompt a reevaluation of the effectiveness of protective headgear in soccer by soccer governing bodies, at least one of which, the U.S. Soccer Federation, is currently on record as stating that there is "no evidence that wearing this sort of headgear is beneficial to players," (a statement later at least partially retracted: it now admits helmets may be beneficial in head-to-head collisions) and as expressing the concern that "it might actually lead to more injuries" because of the so-called "gladiator effect" where players take more chances because they feel better protected.
More aggressive play not found
One of the reasons some experts cite as a reason for not wearing protective headgear is the concept of risk compensation. According to the Prague consensus statement, risk compensation is "where the use of protective equipment results in changes in behavioral change such as the adoption of more dangerous playing techniques which can result in a paradoxical increase in injury rates." "This may be of particular concern in child and adolescent athletes where head injury rates are often higher than in adult athletes," says the statement.
The new study seems to show that such risk compensation was not present in the athletes studied. In other words, that wearing headgear did not encourage soccer players to play more aggressively.
Important Update (January 29, 2010): A Clinical Report by the American Academy of Pediatrics' Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness Executive Committee appearing in the February 2010 journal Pediatrics, while acknowledging the McGill study, concluded that "data currently are insufficient to state that soft helmets prevent head injury, and this absence of prospective data, combined with a lack of uniform safety standards and regulations, makes universal support of soft helmets premature at this time." (emphasis supplied).