Purdue researchers suggest change to reduce concussions in soccer

SAN JOSE, CA - FEBRUARY 02: United States Defender Walker Zimmerman (25) attempts a header in the box during the US Men's National Team friendly soccer match against Costa Rica on February 2, 2019 at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, CA. (Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Researchers at Purdue University say there’s a simple way to cut down on head injuries for soccer players and it all has to do with the ball.

Head injuries have long been a concern in sports. Sometimes medical experts suggest additional protective gear, new rules or changes to how athletes play the game, But a researcher at Purdue suggests when it comes to soccer, just inflating the ball a little less could make a big difference.

Up to 22% of soccer injuries are concussions resulting from players using their heads to direct the ball during the game. This isn’t a rare occurrence, past studies show a professional soccer player heads the ball about 12 times a game and about 800 times each season. 

Purdue professor Eric Nauman said it’s not just about concussions. Common, but hard head hits change the brain over time depending on the force of impact.

Currently, the NCAA and FIFA have standards in place that inflate balls more than the manufacturers recommendations, making them harder and increasing the impact to an athletes head.

Nauman said reducing the inflation will dramatically reduce forces associated with potential head injury by about 20% without any meaningful changes to the game.

“Deflate the ball just a little bit, now soccer is much, much safer than it was before. And maybe as the kids are starting out you actually use a lighter ball, same size, but lighter. That has a tremendous effect and reducing the overall impact to the head,” Nauman said.

In addition to inflating balls less, the research also suggests avoiding rain play or swapping out the soccer ball more regularly when it is wet. Nauman says when the ball gets wet, it can quickly surpass the NCAA weight limit and increase the force of impact.

Now the Purdue team says it’s up to the soccer governing bodies to acknowledge the research and make the changes.

To read the study, click here.