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Ever since 1984, the year soccer passed baseball as
the most popular team sport in the United States, participation
in this sport has skyrocketed. With increasing
numbers of children running and kicking their way
down soccer fields across America, doctors of chiropractic
are urging parents to learn how to protect their
children from the potential injuries this popular sport
can cause.
Although soccer can be a great overall sport for children,
some youngsters are enduring mild to severe
head traumas, neck injuries, damage to the cervical
spine, headache, neck pain, dizziness, irritability, and
insomnia as a result of their participation, according to
the Journal of the American Chiropractic Association
(JACA). Each year, in fact, youths under age 15 suffer
more than 227,100 soccer-related injuries, according to
recent reports.
Heading the Ball: A Risk for Children
“People have a misconception that soccer has no
risk,” says Scott Bautch, DC, past president of the
American Chiropractic Association’s (ACA) Council on
Occupational Health, who has children currently playing
soccer. “I think soccer is too aggressive too early,
which is leading to potential problems. It’s not as
though we can fix brain damage later on in these kids’
Soccer requires three basic skills – kicking (striking the
ball with the feet), trapping (similar to catching the ball,
only using different parts of the body), and heading the
ball (the deliberate use of the head to redirect the ball).
It’s that last one – heading – that stirs concern and
controversy over possible permanent damage.
Philip Santiago, DC, who was an All-American soccer
player in college and a professional player for five
years, says that heading is safe only when children are
given “proper coaching in proper technique.” Dr.
Santiago has also served for five years as head soccer
coach at both New York Institute of Technology and
Montclair State University, and was the chiropractor for
the United States Olympic Team in 1992.
Dr. Santiago’s opinion on proper technique is backed
up in a study of elite soccer players at the 1993
Olympic Festival. “While properly executed heading
was not found to result in any concussive episodes, 18
percent (18 of 102) of the concussions were a result of
heading,” the study found.
Dr. Santiago would like to see youngsters hold off
heading until age 10 or 11. Dr. Bautch prefers age 14
to 16, based on maturation and development of the
Helmets: Not a Complete Solution
Some school districts are now requiring helmets for
young soccer players. However, Dr. Bautch, who says
helmets are “a positive,” worries that helmets don’t

protect the spine and don’t make up for too-aggressive
play. “They are just a small piece that may give
some protection,” he explains. “I’d hate to see kids
wear helmets and have people think that the kids are
safe and that they don’t have to teach safety and prevention.
I would rather see no heading without helmets
in young kids, and let helmets be introduced later.”
Prevention and Treatment of Injuries
If an injury occurs, think RICE – rest, ice, compression,
and elevation of the injury – which is the recommended
procedure. Keep the injury iced until the swelling is
down, applying ice no longer than a 20-minute session.
After 20 minutes, ice fatigues the blood vessels

and causes a heat reaction that actually increases
swelling. Leave the ice off for about an hour and reapply.
Then, try to get the child to move the injured area
as soon as possible. If pain persists, consider taking
your child to a chiropractor or other health care professional.
Other Safety Recommendations
Parents can help protect their children from soccer
injuries. Many of the participants at a recent Consumer
Product Safety Commission roundtable insisted that
parents and coaches already have the tools at their
disposal. Among them are:
• teaching and use of proper heading technique
• use of smaller balls for younger players
• strict enforcement of rules
• padding of goal posts
• use of mouth guards
• improved medical coverage at games
• coaches educated in symptoms of brain injury
• proper nutrition, including plenty of water to
keep muscles


Chiropractic & Physical therapy to the Portland metro area: West Linn, Oregon City, Lake Oswego, and Tualatin. Owner & Chiropractor. Ryan Lambert Bellacov will give professional service to bring you pain relief. www.bigsportsmed.com; Dr. Ryan Lambert Bellacov with years of experience working with athletics.