We know that contact sports like rugby, boxing or ice hockey, if we do not take adequate protection, can damage our brain because of the blows received.
Many players in these sports developed dementia and mental disorders associated with brain damage that caused all manner of psychiatric symptoms at the end of life.
Although football is not considered a contact sport, its popularity has raised questions about whether it can cause problems for our brains, as it also receives impacts on the head. Is It Bad For The Brain To Play Soccer? This is the question we will answer below.
Is It Bad For The Brain To Play Soccer?
The practice of sport has always been recommended. All sports are healthy, improving our physical and mental health because, in addition to keeping us in good shape, being physically active is a protective factor against mental disorders such as depression or anxiety and also helps prevent it. onset of brain diseases such as dementia.
But despite its benefits, playing contact sports like rugby, ice hockey or boxing has been linked to brain damage and, ultimately, neurodegenerative diseases. It’s not that these sports are bad for our health, but that if practiced irresponsibly and carefully, they can lead to concussions that end in brain damage..
Football (European, football for life) is undoubtedly the king of sport. It is played all over the world and although there are countries where it is not that famous, almost every nation in the world has its own national selection for the sport. Although it is not a contact sport, its popularity and the fact that they sometimes pass with their heads has made many wonder if it is bad for the brain to play football.
As with contact sports, it’s not that football itself is bad. The practice of any sport is healthy but all carry certain risks that, if proper safety measures are taken, the possible damage that can be suffered from head impacts will be less. If this happens, the affected footballer will need to be followed up to ensure his neurological damage does not go further.
Fortunately, to avoid the severity associated with these blows, many professional sports have approved the use of regulatory protective equipment, in addition to following certain rules and playing correctly to avoid injury. However, football is not characterized by skull protection, although the head is used to throw the ball, which if done too hard can be a problem for our brain.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy
Throughout the 20th century, the impacts on the head produced by playing sports with dementia, brain diseases and mental disorders have been increasingly linked. One of the first terms used to link impact sports to brain damage was boxing dementia, first identified in boxing players, although later his diagnosis spread to other contact sports.
Today, this term is no longer used and is replaced by chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is a neurodegenerative disease in which the brain of the affected person is so damaged due to the beating they have received during their lifetime that are induced in various psychiatric conditions. It is this degenerative disease considered the main culprit for professional contact sports athletes to have higher dementia death rates than the normal population.
The countless number of times that boxers, rugby, hockey and soccer players receive blows to the head, despite their protection, is likely to be responsible for their being at greater risk of neurodegenerative diseases, such as stroke. motor neuron disease or Parkinson’s disease.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy can only be diagnosed post mortem. In life, people affected by this brain destruction exhibit a wide range of symptoms. Memory problems, irritability, mood disturbances, temper tantrums, drug addiction, executive dysfunction and other issues are what mark the daily lives of many retired sportsmen who have entered a whirlwind of psychiatric problems in recent years.
Are concussions important in football?
Contrary to what it may seem, the brain is not rubber, but gelatin. It is an extremely soft organ which, although it is protected by a hard wall of cranial bone, is not spared from being damaged during a very strong blow. The brain floats in the cerebrospinal fluid, which gives it a certain freedom of movement which, during a cranial impact, causes it to bounce back inside the skull, and cortical damage can occur.
It only takes a drop or a hard blow to the head for our brain to hit the walls of the skull and form brain bruises, tears in blood vessels, nerve damage, or loss of normal brain function both short and long term. These falls and hits to the head usually occur in footballers in positions on the pitch, who can pass the ball with the head or collide and fall when receiving a hard blow to the head.
In football, falls and hits to the head are rather anecdotal, infrequent compared to contact sports.. It is true that in addition to a professional footballer, they had to take him off the pitch for a bad shot, but they are not a little common and, if he rests after they have suffered, leaving the brain time to recover, these impacts are unlikely to develop into future dementia.
However, there are cases of professional footballers whose death is associated with numerous concussions. One example is former English footballer Jeff Astle (1942-2002), a West Bromwich player. Willie Steward, a British doctor, said in a report that Astle, who died of Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 59, suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy due to the countless concussions he had to sustain. in his life. Jeff Astle was known as an expert in throwing balls with his head.
Despite Astle’s case, everything seems to point to serious brain damage being rare in football, no matter how significant it is. It should be noted that the probability of suffering from it varies according to the position occupied on the field, the players at the lowest risk of concussion being the goalkeepers with a risk equivalent to one third of the risk posed by the other players, who run from here to there and they can collide with each other.
In a recent study conducted by the group of Emma R. Russell and colleagues (2021), it was found that the risk of developing a neurodegenerative disease was around 3.5 times higher in former professional footballers than in the general population. The risk was also found to be higher among all outfield positions, being highest among defenses that had a 5 times higher risk compared to the general population. There was a correlation between the chances of developing dementia and the length of a professional footballer’s career.
What are the signs and symptoms of a concussion?
There are several signs and symptoms that can indicate that we are suffering from a concussion while playing soccer. Symptoms of a concussion don’t always appear immediately after impact, it is therefore advisable to be careful and assess the force of the blow. Some of the symptoms associated with a concussion that should be of concern to us include:
- Dizziness, nausea and vomiting
- Balance or coordination problems
- Blurred vision
- He speaks fluently, dragging out words and saying things insignificant
- Confusion and dizziness
- Lack of focus and inability to make decisions
- Memory problems
- Sleep disorders: drowsiness, difficulty falling asleep, insomnia …
- Sleep more or less than usual
- Anxiety and irritability
- Depressive symptoms
Many of these symptoms coincide with those of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, but in this case, they would appear after an occasional hit on the playing field. Also, to prevent it from turning into long-term encephalopathy it is convenient to rest for a while, to replay football only when a qualified professional recommends it to us after examining our state of mental health.
Concussions are very delicate, and while it is possible that those who have suffered from them feel that they are already doing better, any precaution is small. It may no longer hurt your head or make you feel fluent, but there may still be problems with coordination, balance, and speed of thought.. Only a doctor can know for sure.
But despite this, it is even common sense, the truth is that many players, both in football and other sports, are afraid of disappointing their team or coach, feeling pressured to return to the sport but not still recovered. It is for this reason that in most regulated leagues and professional sports such as football, rugby, basketball and others, there are rules on when players who have been diagnosed with concussion. brain can resume sport.
How to prevent concussions in football?
At this point, we can understand that the answer to the question of whether playing football is bad for the brain is a “depends”. It depends on how we play the sport, whether we take the appropriate steps to prevent concussions, if one occurs..
If we protect ourselves, follow the rules and act in a sporty and calm manner, all of this will mean that playing football is about having a good time with our friends while doing physical activity, which is beneficial for our health.
Below we will see some ways to prevent concussions, both in football and in any other sport, with or without contact usually.
1. Use the right equipment
Using the right equipment is extremely important to play any type of sport, not just soccer. In the case of this sport, it is true that there are no helmets or head protectors, because normally it should not suffer a significant impact on the skull.
However, as passes can also be done with the head, it is essential that the ball is of good quality, neither too hard nor too old.
Concussions cannot be completely avoided because there will always be falls and hits, but at least the right material helps prevent serious injury.
2. Play it safe
It is always better to pass the ball with the feet than with the head, even if the game allows it. Don’t take unnecessary risks and try to always favor the use of the legs, limiting the passes with the head.
Also, play with sportsmanship, do not push or try to knock down the opposing team’s players because even if you think the impact would be received by them, maybe by cheating you also receive part of the impact.
3. Stop if necessary
If you injure your head while playing soccer, stop playing immediately. The coach must know when one of the players must not continue playing to avoid serious injury.
In case this is a game without a coach, between friends and with friends, do it for yourself. Your health is above the result of the game and you don’t have to run the risk of injuring your head a second time.
A second brain injury may involve the onset of second impact syndrome which, although rare, can cause permanent brain damage and even death.
If you are feeling a little dizzy, have a friend or other player keep an eye on you by sitting next to you for a few minutes and, if necessary, accompany you to the emergency room to make sure it there is no serious injury to the brain.
- Russell ER, Mackay DF, Stewart K, MacLean JA, Pell JP, Stewart W (2021). Association of positions in the field and the length of the career at risk of neurodegenerative diseases in former male professional footballers. JAMA Neurol. Published online August 2, 2021. doi: 10.1001 / jamaneurol.2021.2403