Concussions: The Invisible Injury Plaguing the World of Soccer

By Danielle Rodriguez, C2ST Intern, Waubonsee Community College

In the media, we hear stories of football or hockey players who are constantly colliding with one another. The concern around the safety of these two sports has sparked a conversation about the significant head injuries that can be sustained while playing. But what if I told you there was a third sport that accounts for nearly 25% of all reported concussions? Soccer, one of the most popular sports in the world, maybe the most dangerous. How do these concussions occur, and why is it not talked about more?

What exactly is a concussion? A concussion is not just a bump to the head. It is a brain injury in which the brain moves back and forth between the inner walls of the skull. Concussions cause a wide variety of symptoms. Common physical symptoms of concussion include headache, ringing in the ears, and vomiting. Lesser known symptoms include trouble sleeping, increased irritability, issues with concentration and memory, and sensitivity to light and sound. These symptoms can last days, weeks, or even months. In severe cases, a concussion can lead to bleeding in the brain which can result in death. Concussions are an invisible injury that is often downplayed, but they can have a tremendous impact on the future athletic careers of affected players.


The unique aspect of soccer that makes concussions so prevalent is the repetitive action of subconcussive trauma involved in heading the ball. Subconcussive trauma occurs when there is an impact on the head without any clinical symptoms of a concussion. Researchers have reported that these injuries influence the development of abnormalities in the brain. This is particularly concerning when noting that concussions are the fifth most common injury in soccer. Data collected from 51 FIFA-sponsored tournaments and 4 Olympic Games from 1998-2012 found that head and neck injuries accounted for 15% of all injuries. Head injuries have immense consequences for youth athletes whose brains are not yet done developing.

In 2010, two-time Olympic gold medalist and 1999 World Cup Champion Brianna Scurry was goalkeeping during a game when she was slammed in her right temple by her opponent’s knee. She felt an intense pain in her head and could not continue playing. Later, she discovered that the impact on her temple had resulted in a traumatic brain injury that crushed her occipital nerve. That was the last game she ever played. Scurry says that she had 3 documented concussions before the traumatic injury and maybe dozens more that went undocumented. These prior concussions are likely to have contributed to the severity of her final injury. The traumatic brain injury gave Scurry problems with memory, balance, and sleep, and radiating pain in her left ear. These symptoms eventually required her to have surgery on her occipital nerve. It is scary knowing that one of the best and most experienced players in the world had her career crushed by such a common injury.

Head trauma in soccer is consistently minimized which leads to many players not taking the proper steps to receive care and take the appropriate recovery time. This results in chronic symptoms throughout their athletic careers. In 2012 and 2016, the International Conference on Concussion in Sport formed a consensus stating that any players in question must immediately be evaluated for concussion based on their level of consciousness, orientation, cranial nerve function, and balance. Further research led to the 2016 development of the Sports Concussion Assessment Tool (SCAT)  which was created to diagnose and evaluate concussions. These tests are great stepping stones for testing and treating concussed players. However, I believe there is still much room to instill further preventative measures to avoid this traumatic injury from occurring in the first place. 


Concussion – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic

How Dangerous Are Soccer Concussions? They May Cause Lasting Damage | Scientific American

Concussion in soccer: a comprehensive review of the literature – PMC (

Heading in Soccer: How Dangerous Is It? (

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