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

Video On the Scene: In Gaza, Darkness Brings Dread and Death

Palestinians fear nighttime raids, many feel abandoned by outside world, VOA's Scott Bobb reports More

African Small Farmers Could Be Key to Ending Food Insecurity

Experts say providing access to microloans, crop insurance, better storage facilities, irrigation, road systems and market information could enable greater production More

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid