Republic FC doctor preaches vigilance about concussions

Dr. Alberto Panero gets ticked when he sees professional soccer players who have suffered obvious head injuries return immediately to play.

The Republic FC team physician says it sends a horrible message to younger players who often are reluctant to tell a coach about a possible concussion for fear of being benched or seen as being weak.

Panero illustrated his concerns at a symposium for area youth soccer coaches on Monday night at Capital Christian High School sponsored by Republic FC and Results Physical Therapy and Training Center.

Panero showed a film clip from an English Premier League match last April involving Chelsea and Arsenal.

Early in the match, Chelsea star Oscar collided head-to-head in the box with Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina just as he put a shot toward goal. Although the forward appeared dazed and confused after the collision, Chelsea team doctors allowed him to stay in the match.

“You see Oscar go up for the ball and boom! He’s done,” Panero said. “It doesn’t get any clearer than that. The guy has a concussion….The fact that this guy was allowed to come right back into play is completely unacceptable and against all concussion protocol rules.”

Oscar was removed from the match at halftime and taken to the hospital, but the medical team’s decision and manager Jose Mourinho’s later insistence that his player didn’t suffer a concussion sparked much controversy.

While the NFL has made significant strides in dealing with concussion management, Panero said FIFA is still a step too slow.

So Panero’s plea to coaches is that they need to be vigilant when working with youth players. When it comes to suspected concussions, always err on the side of caution.

He said that 84 percent of those who suffer the symptoms of a concussion and refrain from playing and training are healthy within seven to 10 days. But those who return too soon increase their risks of more head trauma and those who return to a match after suffering a concussion are at even greater risk.

“We’ve seen it with younger football players where they have suffered a concussion, and they get put back into a game, and two hours later they are in the emergency room dying,” Panero said. “It’s rare, but it happens. I can guarantee if it happens to any of you, it’s going to be a moment that is going to scar you for life.”

Heading a soccer ball has been so controversial for younger players that FIFA was sued over the issue, though a Bay Area judge tossed the case out of court earlier this year. The suit had asked the court to force FIFA to ban heading for players younger than 14 and limit heading for players ages 14 to 17.

Panero said that coaches need to teach the correct mechanics and suggested that children 12 and younger not be pushed to head the ball until they are ready.

“You don’t want to be doing heading drills on a day-to-day basis,” Panero said.

Certified Athletic Trainer Lindsey Mair, a former Granite Bay High soccer player, said that youth players who have suffered a concussion shouldn’t begin heading a ball for at least a month and shouldn’t try it in a practice or a match for at least eight weeks.

She said teaching proper technique is crucial, especially for girls who are much more likely to sustain a concussion than boys while heading a soccer ball.

“I coach a U-14 girls team and what I see with younger players is they let the ball hit them instead of them hitting the ball, so proper instruction is crucial,” she said.

Panero, who has seen athletes as young as “12 or 13” with concussions, thinks that the area awareness of the issue is on an upswing, though there is still much to be done.

“I don’t know if you would call it an epidemic or not, but it’s definitely a real problem,” Panero said. “It’s not a virus. It’s not something that is progressively getting worse. But it’s serious enough that we can’t wait. We need to address it now.”

Bill Paterson: 916-326-5506, @SacBee_BillP

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