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By Reuters

Outlawing "heading the ball" during soccer games may reduce the rate of concussions, but eliminating player-on-player contact would help more, suggests a new study.

The findings challenge recent calls to ban "heading," which is when players hit soccer balls with their heads, the study's lead author told Reuters Health.

"Intuitively it sounds great," said Dawn Comstock of Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. "It even has the word 'head' in it."

Comstock and her colleagues report in JAMA Pediatrics that players are more likely to get concussions during heading than other soccer plays, but it's not the cause of the injuries.

"When you look more deeply in the data, it’s not the act of athletes hitting the balls with their heads at all," Comstock said. "Rather, it’s athlete-to-athlete contact that occurs during heading."

While some young players do get concussions when they head the ball, that number is very small compared to those who are injured by another player while heading the ball, Comstock said. Dr. Robert Cantu, co-founder and medical director of the Sports Legacy Institute, told Reuters Health that the new study confirms previous research on the rate of concussion during heading.

"What (Comstock) does point out — and she’s looking at the high school level not the youth level - is that rough play also needs to be addressed," said Cantu, who was not involved with the new study. His organization supports that, he said.

Heading is still the activity with the highest incidence, he pointed out. Also, under age 14 is when the maximum development of the brain occurs.

The authors also note out that most injuries reported in soccer are to lower parts of the body, not the head.