News / Health

Study: Repeated Heading Causes Brain Injury in Soccer Players

Jessica Berman
Heading the ball, a popular move in soccer in which players use their heads to hit and direct the ball, can cause brain injuries, according to a new study.  Researchers say frequent heading can result in mild brain trauma and memory problems similar to concussion.

Soccer is the world’s most popular amateur sport.  It is enjoyed and played seriously as a hobby by an estimated one-quarter of a billion people of all ages around the world.  But there’s concern that repeatedly heading the ball, which travels at speeds up to 80 kilometers per hour, can result in brain damage.  

Researchers at New York’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University studied the brains of 37 amateur futbollers selected from around the New York City area.  All played soccer as a hobby for an average of 22 years, practicing two times a week and playing a competitive match at least once a week.

Michael Lipton, director of the school’s Magnetic Resonance Imaging Research Center, says investigators assessed how much heading each player had done for 12 months.  The participants also took a series of tests that measured memory and brain function, and researchers used a high-tech MRI machine to scan the participants' brains.  They wanted to see whether the amount of heading in each player was related to microscopic structural changes in the brain and performance on the memory tests.

Investigators found that players who headed the ball 1,500 times per year or less had significantly less damage such as lacerations to white matter - fatty tissue that covers the brain - which contains nerve fibers called axons.

“But as you get to a higher level and cross a threshold, there is a sudden increase in the likelihood that we are going to find both changes in the brain tissue as well as worse function on our psychological tests, especially tests of memory, related to that increased heading,” Lipton said.

Lipton says mild brain changes and memory impairment similar to what is seen in concussions was seen in players who headed the ball 1,550 times or more per year, while players who headed the ball more than 1,800 times had the worst memory scores.

Experts say most damage comes from practices where the average futboller may hit the ball with his head 30 or more times.  During games, soccer players head butt anywhere from six to 12 times.

Helmets used in American football have been shown to be effective at preventing skull fractures and bleeding in the brain, according to Lipton.  But he says protective head gear is not likely to help with the type of brain injury caused by heading.

“The type of injury that we are looking at here is due to rapid acceleration and deceleration or rotation of the brain inside the skull, sort of your brain sloshing around inside the skull as it moves,” Lipton said.

Researchers will now try to determine the effect of heading in futbollers of different ages and in different countries.

The study on the effect of heading in amateur soccer players is published in the journal Radiology.

You May Like

Analysis: China Raises Hong Kong Rhetoric to Tiananmen Level

A front-page commentary in The People’s Daily called the current demonstrations 'chaos,' the same word Party officials used 25 years ago to describe the Tiananmen Square protests More

US Airstrikes Anger Syrian Civilians Fleeing Their Homes

Pentagon officials say they have seen no credible evidence of civilian deaths caused by US airstrikes against Islamic State militants More

Child Sexual Exploitation to Worsen in SE Asia

Southeast Asia’s planned economic integration is a key step for boosting the region’s productivity, but carries downsides as well More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid