When the head meets the soccer ball, how is your brain?


Soccer players who frequently head-kick the ball – a commonly used tactic used to pass or score in a game – may be at risk for brain damage, memory loss and impaired cognitive abilities, according to a study published in the journal Radiology .

Brain damage and the lasting effects of concussions in sports have become a major health problem in recent years, especially in sports as hard-hitting as American football. Although the shock of a soccer ball to the forehead seems harmless enough, compared to a tackle that crashes into the three-meter line, a soccer player can “point” the ball hundreds or even thousands of times over. during the season. The cumulative effect of many “under-concussion” strokes on the brain was unknown and not yet studied.

“We chose to study football because it is the most popular sport in the world,” says lead author of the report, Michael Lipton, associate director of the Gruss Magnetic Resonance Research Center at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. At New York. “It is widely played by millions of people of all ages, including children, and there are concerns that directing the ball, an essential part of the game, could cause brain damage.”

Lipton and his colleagues looked at 37 amateur players, all adults, who had played football for an average of 22 years each and played regularly over the previous year. They filled out questionnaires about their style of play and how often they were shooting the ball with their heads on the field and during practice drills. Then they underwent highly sophisticated memory tests and brain scans, using a type of MRI called diffusion tensor imaging that examines microscopic changes in white matter in the brain. White matter is the tissue that carries messages from one region of the brain to another.

The researchers found that players had to aim the ball a number of times over the course of a season before white matter abnormalities began to appear on the imagery. The threshold varied from player to player, but was generally in the range of 900 to 1,500 headers over the course of a season. Beyond this threshold, brain abnormalities quickly became more apparent. Those who directed the ball more than 1,800 times in a season had measurably worse results on memory tests than those who had directed the ball less frequently. The difference in scores was in the range of 10 to 20 percent.

“To put that in perspective, I have to clarify that all of the functions of these players were still within the norm,” said Lipton. “They are all essentially young professionals and functional students.”

So, should we be concerned about footballers and the parents of young footballers?

“All we have at this point is evidence that shows an association between the cap and what looks like brain injury. However, we don’t yet have the kind of data that allows us to prove a causal role. for heading or to generalize our results to other specific individuals In the meantime, monitoring the amount of heading people do may provide an approach to preventing brain damage from heading.

“I must stress that we see football as a great source of beneficial physical activity. It should not be limited. Our message is to understand the role of the head in the game and see how we can improve the safety of the game. of football and facilitate its expansion.

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