This article is from the In-Depth Report The Science of Concussion and Brain Injury
60-Second Health

Soccer Headings Can Harm Brain

A specialized form of brain imaging finds that soccer players who head the ball more than 1,000 times a year face risks similar to those with head trauma. Katherine Harmon reports

American football and international hockey have gotten hammered for their brutal hits, which can lead to serious brain injury. But soccer players are also getting their heads examined.

A new study used diffusion tensor imaging, a kind of MRI that can pick up on changes to nerve connections, to look for signs of injury in soccer players who head the ball—a lot.

"The suspicion, concern and the indications of our findings are that changes to the brain similar to what happens when someone has actual head trauma occur in the brain of someone due to heading." Michael Lipton of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. The results were presented at the Radiological Society of North America's Annual Meeting. [Namhee Kim et al., "Making Soccer Safer for the Brain: DTI-defined exposure thresholds for white matter injury due to soccer heading"]

An occasional heading of a soccer ball isn't likely to be a problem—the ball isn't hard enough to directly injure nerve fibers in most cases. But frequent heading might be causing other harm that leads to a deterioration of crucial connections. The researchers found that the changes came in players averaging 1,000 to 1,500 head hits a year. The advice to them: wise up—use your foot.

—Katherine Harmon

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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