Why Soccer Players May Be Prone to Brain Injury

Regularly hitting a soccer ball with your head — even just a few times a day — has been linked to traumatic brain injuries, researchers report.

In a preliminary study, 32 amateur soccer players who “headed” the ball more than 1,000 to 1,500 times a year, the equivalent of a few times a day, had abnormalities in areas of the brain responsible for memory, attention, planning, organizing, and vision. Young men who headed the ball less frequently did not show these abnormalities on brain scans, according to the study, presented here at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

A previous study of the same 32 amateur soccer players also showed that those who headed the ball more than 1,000 times a year scored worse on tests of memory and reaction time, says researcher Michael Lipton, MD, PhD, associate director of the Gruss Magnetic Resonance Research Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, N.Y.

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines say there is not enough evidence to support a recommendation that young soccer players completely refrain from heading the ball. However, the academy recommends that heading be minimized.

A hard hit can cause symptoms of a concussion, including lightheadedness, confusion, and headaches, which require immediate attention. But this is the first study in which players underwent a series of imaging scans to see what’s going on inside the brain, Lipton says.

These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the “peer review” process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.


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