Heading a soccer ball harms women more than men, study finds

Women’s brains appear to be more affected by the head of a soccer ball than men’s, according to a new study.

A study using brain scans shows distinct patterns of damage in the brains of female soccer players compared to male players. And women in general had more of their brain matter affected, the researchers reported Tuesday in the journal Radiology.

This does not necessarily translate into symptoms. None of the women in the study had more symptoms than the men, the team from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York said.

But it may help explain why other studies have shown that female soccer players are more likely to report concussion symptoms than male players.

“Researchers and clinicians have long noted that women fare worse after traumatic brain injury than men, but some have said that’s only because women are more willing to report symptoms,” he said. said Dr. Michael Lipton, radiology and psychiatry professor at Albert Einstein. study team, said in a statement.

And much of the diagnosis of brain injury is subjective, based on what people say they are experiencing.

Brain scans solve that problem, Lipton said.

“Based on our study, which measured objective changes in brain tissue rather than self-reported symptoms, women appear to be more likely than men to experience soccer ball head trauma,” he said. he declares.

Lipton’s team studied 49 men and 49 women who all played in amateur soccer leagues. None had evidence of a head injury.

“Participants were asked how often they headed the ball on average during each type of session (training vs competition) and in each setting (indoor vs outdoor), how many times per week they participated in each and how many months per year they played football,” the researchers wrote in their report.

Next, the volunteers underwent a specialized type of magnetic resonance imaging called diffusion tensor imaging. It can show tissue damage on a very fine scale.

Women who led most often had eight brain regions damaged, while men had three major brain regions damaged. And more overall brain area tended to be damaged in women than in men.

“The five times greater volume of affected white matter we identified in females compared to males indicates a higher burden of microstructural consequences in females,” they wrote.

“Our findings add to a growing body of evidence that males and females express distinct biological responses to brain injury.”

It’s unclear why, but the researchers pointed out that women have smaller necks than men, which could cause the head to move differently, possibly shaking and damaging the brain in different ways.

There is no debating that heading the ball can cause brain damage. A 2015 study of high school footballers published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the head accounted for 30% of concussions in male players and 25% of those in girls.

In adults too, the head of the ball represents only a part of the concussions. Players are also often punched, tackled and whipped in the fast game.

It’s important to be able to identify damage early, Lipton said. Football players, veterans and others often suffer from a degenerative brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy. There is no cure and concussions seem to be heavily involved.

“In various brain injuries, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy, subclinical pathology develops before we can detect brain damage that affects function,” Lipton said.

“So before serious dysfunction occurs, it’s wise to identify risk factors for cumulative brain damage – such as leading if you’re female – so people can take action to prevent further damage. other damage and maximize recovery.”

Headlines don’t have to be banned, he said.

“We’ve done several studies showing that most players seem to tolerate some level of capping,” Lipton said.

“Limiting the number of head kicks allowed in football could have similar benefits in preventing head injuries. But we can’t recommend specific numbers at this point. Fully understanding cap risk will take a lot more work.