"Heading" to Brain Injury

We know that getting hard hits to the head can cause concussion and brain injury. That’s why we worry so much about football players, boxers, and soldiers, who regularly get their heads smacked around. But a new study reveals that soccer players may also be at risk.

The study, which was discussed at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, found that regularly heading a soccer ball (bouncing the ball off the head) can lead to concussion-like brain injuries. According to MSN Fox Sports, the researchers scanned the brains of 38 amateur soccer players, and compared the images to the number of times they deeded the ball during the past year. Players who exceeded 1000 headers per year had “significant injury” to the brain. The damage was done to five specific areas of the brain, areas responsible for attention, memory, and vision. Functionally, players who frequently headed the ball performed worse on tests of verbal memory and hand-eye coordination.

“Heading a soccer ball is not an impact of a magnitude that will lacerate nerve fibers in the brain,” [lead author Michael Lipton] added. “But repetitive heading may set off a cascade of responses that can lead to degeneration of brain cells.”

The damage caused by soccer balls is insidious—it sneaks up on players after months or even years of normal play. This is different from the more slam-bam kinds of immediate concussion damage done in the more hard-hitting sports. But in some ways, that may make soccer more hazardous because you can’t prevent the damage without totally changing the rules of the game. This was just a small study, so it is too early make specific recommendation. Experts suggest that players try to minimize heading, especially during practice.

According to Canadian television station CTV, brain injury specialists with the non-profit group ThinkFirst identified heading as a possible safety issue three years ago, and drew up guidelines on how to headhit the ball safely. Their number one rule was not to teach the skill too early to children.

“So anybody out there who’s listening to this who has a child less than 10, do not teach that child to head the ball. Then if they are of the appropriate age, which is 10 to 12, then they can start learning how to head the ball with the appropriate sized ball,” ThinkFirst founder Dr. Charles Tator tells CTV News.

So the general advice seems to be to delay teaching heading until a child is at least age 10, and to minimize the amount of heading done in practices. For individual soccer players, I’d recommend just using your noggin, but that would just be a horrible pun, so I’ll just say to protect your brain and minimize the use of heading.


To read the full story on MSN Fox Sports, click here:  Heading soccer ball may lead to brain damage

To read the full article on CTV, click here: ‘Heading’ a soccer ball could cause brain injury

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