Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have shown that soccer players who often "head" the ball have brain abnormalities resembling those found in patients with concussion (mild traumatic brain injury). The study, published online in the journal of Radiology, used advanced imaging techniques and cognitive tests that assessed memory. Michael L. Lipton, MD PhD, says the group studied soccer because it's the world's most popular sport and heading is a key component of the sport.
To study possible brain injury from heading, the research team used diffusor tensor imaging (DTI), an advanced MRI-based imaging technique, on 37 amateur adult soccer players who had played the sport since childhood. The study's participants reported playing soccer for an average of 22 years and had played, on average, 10 months during the previous year. The researchers ranked players based on heading frequency, the compared the DTI brain images with the most frequent headers and the remaining players.
Participants in the study also underwent cognitive testing. Lipton explains, "The DTI findings pertaining to the most frequent headers in our study showed white-matter abnormalities similar to what we've seen in patients with concussion." Lipton also notes that players with more than 1,800 headings per year were also more likely to demonstrate poorer memory scores compared to participants with fewer headings per year.
Lipton states that even though additional research is needed, the study "provides compelling preliminary evidence that brain changes resembling mild traumatic brain injury are associated with frequently heading a soccer ball over many years." Essentially, controlling the amount of heading may help prevent brain injury.
Source: Albert Einstein College of Medicine