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Klaus Schneider and Ronald F. Zernicke

With a validated mathematical model of the head-neck consisting of nine rigid bodies (skull, seven cervical vertebrae, and torso), we simulated head impacts to estimate the injury risk associated with soccer heading. Experimental data from head-linear accelerations during soccer heading were used to validate the nine-body head-neck model for short duration impact loading of the head. In the computer simulations, the mass ratios between head mass and impacting body mass, the velocity of the impacting body, and the impact elasticity were varied. Head-linear and angular accelerations were compared to standard head-injury tolerance levels, and the injury risk specifically related to soccer heading was estimated. Based on our choice of tolerance levels in general, our simulations showed that injury risk from angular head accelerations was greater than from linear head accelerations, and compared to frontal impacts, lateral impacts had greater angular and less linear head accelerations. During soccer heading, our simulations indicated an unacceptable injury risk caused by angular head accelerations for frontal and lateral impacts at relatively low impact velocities for children, and at medium range impact velocities for adults. For linear head accelerations, injury risk existed for frontal and lateral impacts at medium range to relatively larger impact velocities for children, while no injury risk was shown for adults throughout the entire velocity range. For injury prevention, we suggest that head-injury risk can be reduced most substantially by increasing the mass ratio between head and impacting body. In soccer with children, the mass of the impacting body has to be adjusted to the reduced head mass of a child, that is, it must be clearly communicated to parents, coaches, and youngsters to only use smaller soccer balls.