Soccer Players Headed For Trouble: Study
Soccer moms and dads across the country are likely to be concerned about the findings of a recent study. Conducted by researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, the study investigated the difference in the brains of soccer players who “headed” the soccer born in comparison with those who did not engage in this activity. “Heading” a soccer ball involves a player using his or her head to hit, bounce or control the direction of the ball.
The research was conducted on 34 men and women, all of whom had played soccer since childhood, and who continued to play as adults, competing year-round in adult soccer leagues.
After completing computerized tests of their memory and other cognitive skills, the test subjects had their brains scanned using “diffusion tensor imaging,” a new M.R.I. technique which is able to detect structural changes in the brain that would not normally be visible in most standard scans. The findings surprisingly revealed that players who used the technique of “heading” a ball more than 1,100 times in the preceding 12 months had a significant loss of white matter in their brain regions that dealt with memory, attention and the processing of visual information. “White matter” is a term given to the brain’s communication wiring including axons and other structures that relay messages between neurons). The disturbing findings revealed that this loss of white matter is “similar to those seen in traumatic brain injury,” such as following a serious concussion. Out of the full group of participants, only one reported ever having experienced a concussion. The link between repeatedly heading a soccer ball and serious injury seems apparent.
Dr. Michael L. Lipton, associate director of the Gruss Magnetic Resonance research Center at Einstein stated “based on these results, it does look like there is a potential for significant effects on the brain from frequent heading.” His statement is supported by the fact that players who had headed a ball 1,100 times or more in the past year were found to be substantially worse at recalling lists of words that had been read to them. As well, this same group also forgot or fumbled the words much more often than players who had headed soccer balls less often.
Elizabeth Larson, a researcher at Humboldt State University in California tracked both the heading history and cognitive health of 51 male and female soccer players at the school over the course of a full college season. Her findings did not bode well for supporters of the activity. Larson’s findings revealed that those players who headed the ball more frequently were significantly more likely to perform worse on visual memory tests which include the ability to recall shapes and images than they had been at the start of the season. In addition, this same group complained of more headaches and dizziness than other players.Continued on the next page