The “heading” soccer ball is not smart for the brain
By Robert Preidt
health day reporter
WEDNESDAY, Feb. 1, 2017 (HealthDay News) — A common soccer move — bouncing the ball off your head — may not be as harmless to the brain as once thought, according to new research.
A study of more than 200 adult amateur soccer players of both genders found that regularly “heading” the ball, as well as sustaining accidental blows to the head, significantly increased a player’s risk of concussion .
“The prevailing wisdom is that routine heading in football is harmless and we only have to worry about players when they have unintended collisions to the head,” said Dr Michael Lipton, director of the study, from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Press release.
“But our study suggests you don’t need an overt collision to warrant that kind of concern,” Lipton said. He is professor of radiology, psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Einstein.
Another concussion expert who reviewed the findings agreed.
The study “appears to provide further evidence that such practices in the context of football may put athletes at risk for traumatic brain injury”, said Dr Jamie Ullman. She directs Neurotrauma at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, NY
Much of the research on sports-related concussions has focused on high-impact sports, such as football or hockey. But brain injury experts have long known that other sports, including football and rugby, can also carry risks.
In previous studies, Lipton said his team had found that “30% of football players who had more than 1,000 hits per year had a higher risk of microstructural changes in the white matter of the brain, typical of a traumatic brain injury, and poorer cognitive performance.”
Digging deeper, the new study focused on online questionnaires answered by 222 adult New York-area amateur soccer club players, both men and women. All had played football for at least six months in the previous year.
The survey found that men averaged 44 headbutts in two weeks, while women averaged 27 and 37% of men.
Players who regularly headed the ball were three times more likely to have concussion symptoms than those who didn’t head the ball often, Lipton’s team reported.
Players who suffered accidental impacts to the head two or more times over a two-week period were six times more likely to have concussion symptoms than those who did not experience accidental impacts to the head. the head, depending on the results.
Of those who headed the ball or reported accidental impacts to the head, 20% had moderate to severe concussion symptoms, according to the report.
Of the seven players with very severe symptoms, six had at least two unintended impacts to the head over two weeks, four were among those who headed the ball the most and three were part of the group that headed the ball in second place .
Lipton stressed that the findings cannot be generalized to child, teen or professional soccer players.
Still, “our results certainly indicate that heading is more than just a ‘subconcussive’ impact and that heading-related concussions are common,” Lipton said. “We need to give people who have these injuries the proper care and make efforts to avoid multiple head impacts, which are particularly dangerous.”
That means paying attention to symptoms, he added.
“Many players who frequently direct the ball experience classic concussion symptoms – such as headaches, confusion and dizziness – during games and practices, even if they are not actually diagnosed with a concussion,” said explained Lipton.
“People with concussions should avoid additional collisions or impacts to the head in the following days or weeks when their risk of a second concussion is extremely high,” he said. “Because these injuries go unrecognized and unaddressed, there can be significant short- and long-term clinical consequences.”
Dr. Salman Azhar is a neurologist and director of stroke services at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. He said the new findings are consistent with previous studies and the risk of concussion appeared to increase with the frequency of head impacts.
“The risk of having moderate to severe symptoms increased when the involuntary cap was increased from one per two-week period to two per two-week period,” Azhar noted.
The study was published online February 1 in the journal Neurology.