With the help of girls’ soccer teams, Western University researchers are investigating what happens to the brains of young soccer players when they take repeated hits to the head. “Most of our understanding of concussion comes from American football. This is actually the first time we are looking at soccer players and head injury,” said Alexandra Harriss, a doctoral student at Western. Girls ages 13, 14, and 15 have been outfitted with headbands containing tiny micro-sensors that measure the impacts players take in head-to-head, head-to-ball, and head-to-ground hits. The data, monitored in real-time with tablets on the sidelines, will be collected for the entire soccer season, including all practices and the 22 games, said Harriss, noting soccer is something of a blind spot when it comes to concussions.
For the soccer research, all the girls taking part have had EEG scans — a test to track brain wave patterns — to establish a baseline. There will be two more EEG scans during the season and one after it’s over. The scans will be compared to see if there have been changes in brain function with repeated low-impact versus high-impact hits. The Western researchers have already learned a few things from early data. Players that meet the ball properly with their heads, using their foreheads, are exposed to less force than when players are hit on top of the head or are caught offguard and use improper form, Harriss said.