Head injuries in professional male football (soccer) over 13 years: 29% lower incidence rates after a rule change (red card).

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Absolute numbers of head injuries in football (soccer) are considerable because of its high popularity and the large number of players. In 2006 a rule was changed to reduce head injuries. Players were given a red card (sent off) for intentional elbow-head contact.


To describe the head injury mechanism and examine the effect of the rule change.


Based on continuously recorded data from the German football magazine "kicker", a database of all head injuries in the 1st German Male Bundesliga was generated comprising seasons 2000/01-2012/13. Injury mechanisms were analysed from video recordings. Injury incidence rates (IR) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CI) as well as incidence rate ratios (IRR) to assess differences before and after the rule change were calculated.


356 head injuries were recorded (IR 2.22, 95% CI 2.00 to 2.46 per 1000 match hours). Contact with another player caused most head injuries, more specifically because of head-head (34%) or elbow-head (17%) contacts. After the rule change, head injuries were reduced by 29% (IRR 0.71, 95% CI 0.57 to 0.86, p=0.002). Lacerations/abrasions declined by 42% (95% CI 0.39 to 0.85), concussions by 29% (95% CI 0.46 to 1.09), contusions by 18% (95% CI 0.43 to 1.55) and facial fractures by 16% (95% CI 0.55 to 1.28).


This rule change appeared to reduce the risk of head injuries in men's professional football.

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