Heading a soccer ball, the signature finish to a perfectly executed set piece, has now been shown to cause memory loss. Research has revealed that players who consistently head the ball during play show alternations in the white matter of the brain similar to that which someone who has suffered a traumatic brain injury would show.
Magnetic resonance imaging, a sophisticated way of saying a brain scan has revealed these changes in white matter to us. They have also shown that this change, which can be caused by heading a soccer ball, can result in significant memory loss later in life. Results of the study were published today in Radiology, a scholarly journal.
Author of the study Dr. Michael Lipton summarized his findings with memory loss as follows: “We looked at the relationship between heading and changes in the brain and changes in cognitive functions thinking and memory, and we found that the more heading people do, the more likely we are to find microscopic structural abnormalities in the brain, and they’re more likely to do poorly on cognitive tests, particularly in terms of memory.”
Dr. Michael Lipton, who is the medical director of magnetic resonance imaging at two New York facilities, the Montefiore Medical Center and the associate director of the Gruss Magnetic Resonance Research Center. He was quick to point out that his study did not prove causation, and that “We cannot say heading caused these changes. We found an association, but in no way can we infer causation. You need a longitudinal study that follows people over time to prove causation.”
Stats were compiled in the study to determine how often a typical soccer player actually strikes the ball with his head. They found that an average soccer player heads the ball six to twelve times per game and more than 30 times per practice.
Results showed concussion like symptoms as well as memory loss for soccer players who struck the ball with their head more than 900 times per year.
Changes to the white matter in the brain have been shown as a result of playing the world’s most popular sport previous to this study as well. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last year showed that soccer players had drastically different white matter makeup when compared to those who particpated in swimming. The white matter in the brain forms the communication network, passing information between the neurons.
The concern for concussions in youth sports is rapidly growing, and perhaps a new found awareness in damage from soccer will grow as well. Heading a soccer ball is a staple of many offenses, but parents should at least be aware of the growing information showing the risk of memory loss and concussion like symptoms as a result of the play.
Follow me on Twitter @CharlieGille
Senior Sports Editor
The Guardian Express
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