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Jennifer Chan, Staff Writer
 
December 16, 2011

Attention Soccer Moms: Too Much Heading in Football Can Lead to Brain Injury

Research shows that there is a limit to the number of times you should bounce a soccer ball off your head on the field. By Jennifer Chan

Every sport comes with its own set of injuries, as you FN moms probably already know. From basketball to baseball, you have probably had to kiss a finger to make it better and had your child or teen admitted to the hospital because of a sprain--or even a break. Right now, soccer--or football, as it's known outside the US--is all the rage, and with that comes the need for a handy first-aid kit. However, a study presented at the Radiological Society of North America suggests a more alarming injury that could result from too much heading—the act of hitting a soccer ball with your head. 

Using Diffusor Tension Imaging, researchers from the Albert Einsten College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and Montefiore Medical Center looked at the brains of 38 amateur soccer players with an average age of 30.8. The participants, who had all played the sport since they were kids, were then asked to recall the number of times they'd headed a ball in the past year. Researchers then ranked them according to frequency and made comparisons with the results from the advanced Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technique they had performed earlier. 

According to the findings, those who performed the most headings suffered from traumatic brain injury—a condition quite similar to patients who have concussions. This then begs the question of how much is too much. "Our goal was to determine if there is a threshold level for heading frequency that, when surpassed, resulted in detectable brain injury," said lead author Michael Lipton, MD, PhD, associate director of Einstein's Gruss Magnetic Resonance Research Center and medical director of MRI services at Montefiore.

Upon further review, the researchers determined that going past 1,000 to 1,500 headings a year is enough to create significant damage in the brain. To be specific, they were able to isolate five areas in the frontal lobe (behind the forehead) and the temporo-occipital region (areas in the bottom-rear) that are the most affected. 

To test just how much of the brain damage applies to the real world, researchers from another study Dr. Lipton and colleague Molly Zimmerman, PhD, assistant professor in the Saul R. Korey Department of Neurology at Einstein continued where the first study left off. They asked the same 38 participants to answer questions that tested their neuropsychological functions. Results showed that those who had the most frequent headings didn’t fare as well as their fellow players on verbal memory and psychomotor speed tests.

Both studies shed light on the possible injuries that could be sustained through playing soccer. With these findings, Dr. Lipton hopes that they will be of some help "in planning future research to develop approaches to protect soccer players."


Physical activity is still good for your children. Learn more about sports and outdoor activities for kids in these articles:


(Photo by woodleywonderworks via Flickr Creative Commons)

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Jennifer Chan
Staff Writer
Jennifer Chan was a contributing writer for Female Network for two years before formally joining the team as a staff writer in July 2012... Read more...
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