New Study Links Heading of Soccer Ball to Brain Damage

It has long been known that high-impact sports like hockey and football have been linked with brain damage, but it now appears that soccer might present a similar danger. New research published by the journalRadiology says that players who head soccer balls more frequently increase their risk of brain damage and memory loss than those who handle the ball primarily with their feet. The damage it can cause is similar to the damage seen in patients with traumatic brain injuries.

According to Dr. Michael Lipton of Yeshiva University, the amount of times a player heads the ball is incrementally related to the chances of researchers finding two key abnormalities: changes to the brain signaling an injury, and a decrease in memory function. Researchers measured these changes through the use of an advanced MRI scanning technique known as diffusion tensor imaging, one of the most popular techniques for brain research. In a study of 37 amateur soccer players, Dr. Lipton found that those who headed the ball more frequently showed microscopic changes to the brain's white matter, the wiring center of the brain that connects different brain regions. These changes are responsible for the same type of cognitive impairment found in TBI patients.

Dr. Lipton explains that the threshold for finding abnormalities on the MRI scans was approximately 800 to 1500 headers over the past 12 months. Memory function became noticeably impaired after approximately 1800 hits. So far, it is unclear what the threshold of force is that a person can safely take without causing subconcussive trauma, which does not produce symptoms but does result in structural changes to the brain observable in neuroimaging. Additionally, it is not known if the abnormalities clear up with time or if the damage is permanent.

Because of the limited size of the study, it is still too early to draw conclusions, but Dr. Lipton does currently plan on expanding his research into a larger study.

Click here to learn more about this study via ScienceDaily.com.

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