Do Soccer Header Bands Really Protect Athletes from Injury?

Did you know…even though soccer is defined as a contact sport by the American Academy of Pediatrics, protective head gear isn’t required for U.S. youth soccer players?

Led by Jack Lima, the U11 Boys Olympico and U13 Boys National teams with their new headgear.

Researchers have followed numerous sports teams, including soccer, to learn more about concussions and repeated “subconcussive” blows. Findings showed that most concussions aren’t from repeatedly heading the ball, but are from collisions with other players, the ground, goalposts, or when the ball strikes the head unexpectedly.

Little information is available about the consequences of multiple “subconcussive” blows, which may occur by repeatedly heading the ball, although recent work indicates that purposeful heading isn’t likely to lead to brain injury.

So why use a header band?

Header bands work by dispersing forces applied to the head. This means the energy of the impact is not concentrated in one spot, which may decrease the amount of force directed to the brain.

More teams are requiring the use of header bands as growing evidence suggests they can limit injury to the head and face.

Header bands have the potential to lower the risk of concussion, especially in higher velocity impacts such as those resulting from head-to-head or head-to-ground/goal post contact.

A history of repeated concussion may be a problem over time especially in children and teens whose brains are still actively developing. It’s possible the use of header bands will provide a certain level of protection.

Your decision regarding the use of header bands is an important one and should be made in consultation with your primary care physician or other medical specialist trained in assessing these kinds of injuries.

We continue to research header bands

We are partnering with Real Colorado Soccer 11 to 12-year-old teams to study the efficacy of header bands over the next several years. This age group is important to watch, because this when players really start to become competitive and more aggressive in their play.

For all players, we encourage training in proper heading technique, good body positioning skills, and improved core and upper body strength as ways of preventing or limiting the consequences of blows to the head.

Do you have questions about header bands? Have you seen people wearing these? If so, tell us where.

For more information on concussion topics, visit our website: childrenscolorado.org/concussion

Concussion Program Hotline: (720) 777-2806

Disclaimer: Neither the authors or Children’s Hospital Colorado represent or have any financial relationship with any sports equipment manufacturer and do not promote the use of any specific brand of head gear.

Written by: Pamela E. Wilson, MD, Co-Director, Concussion Program Department of Rehabilitation Medicine.

13 comments to Do Soccer Header Bands Really Protect Athletes from Injury?

  • Molly Grisham

    As a NCAA DII coach I have mixed feelings on the headgear. I believe if it were a true necessity it would be sanctioned by FIFA but it isn’t. I have had players use them in the past but usually when they are coming back from a concussion and it seems to put them at ease much like a player who is coming back from an ACL who wants to wear a brace, but it hasn’t been used as a long term solution.

    • Knows Concussions

      I know firsthand the politics within FIFA. It took them forever to require shin guards. They resisted until they legally couldn’t anymore. The same things is happening with headgear. FIFA doesn’t want the game of soccer to be portrayed as dangerous because they want everyone playing (they get paid).

  • Adrienne

    I coached 11-12 soccer here in Korea this year and knowing about these head bands would have been useful. I had a player probe to migraines and would never head the ball because he would get an instant headache. He’s an excellent player too. For those heading the ball properly, I’m not sure it would help to wear one other than to provide a small cushion effect. Thanks for publishing this article!

  • sportstop

    Molly, we appreciate your comment and that is why we are doing more research on this. In the meantime, we recommend it, but realize there’s more to learn through research to prove its effectiveness.

    Adrienne, be sure to let us know if the header bands help your player!

    • Knows Concussions

      I am glad you are researching the topic. I have studied headgear in soccer for 10 years now. Why are you calling it a “header band”? The headgear shown in the picture is made by Full90 and it is made to have no effect with heading the ball. It’s purpose is to disperse the g-force when colliding with a hard object, like another players head or a goal post, etc.

      If you would like any more information on the subject of soccer headgear or resources, I’d be happy to help you.

      • Children's Hospital Colorado

        Thank you very much for your comments! Indeed, the term “header band” is left over from earlier days when the concern was that excessive heading (especially high velocity headers) could cause injury. As you mentioned, evidence now has lessened that concern and studies indicate that header bands may best protect against higher velocity impacts such as those resulting from head-to head or head-to ground/goal post contact. The term “header band” however has stuck and is quite common on the field; especially if you hang out at Dick’s Soccer complex on the weekend. Full 90 has updated their name and they now call their device “head gear” however there are others that still use the older term. Our teams will discuss and consider using the term ‘soccer headgear’ in the future.

        Interestingly, some recent research has begun to support the concept that over time repeated headers (and concussions) may alter the brain in such a way as to promote brain inflammation and an associated negative cognitive effect. Of course, this research is very preliminary and limited at this time.

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  • Lynn

    For the record, I was annoyed with bike helmets and skeptical of how over protective we were all becoming. I also played soccer at a high level. That said, my daughter started using a band last spring. She’s small and gets taken out a lot. She came off the field every game holding her head from head to ground or head to body(knees, elbows, head) contact. We were getting concerned about the cumulative effect of those hits when a friend’s child was told she was out of soccer for at least a year due to similar hits, so we tried the band. She hasn’t come off since. The band is helping in her situation, that much is clear. The band is useful if we all remember the purpose it was designed for. My other children are not wearing a band, their playing style is different and they haven’t had the same issues she has – we plan to continue to assess their situations and make a decision based on what is needed.

    • Children's Hospital Colorado

      Thank you for sharing, Lynn. It is great news to hear that the header band is helping your daughter. Let us know if you have any questions in the future!

  • Susan Post

    I watched my grandson’s soccer practice tonight. He plays on the Colorado United White U11 team, Advanced League. When he headed the ball, my heart sank and my mind thought: concussion and remembered the story of a football (American football) player who died because of numerous mini-concussions.

    Do any of you doing the study have children playing on soccer teams? Do they wear soccer helmets? If you were to have children playing on soccer teams, would you insist they wear soccer helmets?

    Since the research pertaining to heading the ball and mini-concussions is in it’s infancy, is it better to err on the side of “better safe than sorry” and purchase headgear or do concerned grandparents keep silent until the evidence is conclusive one way or the other?

    • Children's Hospital Colorado

      Hi Susan,

      These are very good questions to ask. Thank you for your concern in your grandson’s well-being. Here is some helpful information on this topic: most concussions in soccer are not caused by properly heading the ball, rather they occur when players collide with other players, the goal post, or the ground. Even so, we do recommend that young athletes focus on learning proper heading technique to avoid injury. Although research is still in the early stages, results suggest that header bands or soccer head gear may diffuse some of the forces when players collide with other players or the ground. This potential protection does seem to lean towards advocating for players to use header bands or head gear and many soccer clubs are promoting their use.

      Let us know if you have any other questions.

      Thanks so much.

  • [...] Do Soccer Header Bands Really Protect Athletes from Injury?Nov 29, 2011 … Did you know protective head gear isn’t required for U.S. youth soccer players? Find out why your athlete should wear a header band. [...]

  • Wendy

    My daughter just recently hit her head on the ground after being knocked down during her soccer game. Last season during practice she was in net and got a very hard hit to the head by the ball. Both hits having nothing to do with heading the ball, I am now in the process of purchasing the Full 90 head gear for her. She is nervous about heading back out to play this time and I feel the head gear will give her the comfort she needs to continue playing again

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