By David Goodhue

Brain injury findings matter of concern given soccer's worldwide popularity among children

Soccer players who frequently head the ball face the possibility of brain injury and cognitive impairment, according to a new study.

Researchers with Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and Montefiore Medical Center used diffusion tensor imaging, which is an advanced MRI-based imaging technique, on 38 amateur soccer players who were all about 31 years old. The participants had been playing the sport since childhood.

Participants were asked to recall the number of times they had headed the ball during the past year. The researchers ranked the players based on heading frequency and then compared the brain images of the most frequent “headers” with those of the remaining players.

They found that frequent headers showed brain injury similar to that seen in patients with concussions.

The researchers said in a statement that the findings are concerning since soccer is the world's most popular sport, and its popularity is growing in the United States. Of the approximately 18 million Americans who play the sport, 78 percent are under the age of 18.

Soccer balls travel at speeds as fast as 34 miles per hour during recreational play, and more than twice that speed during professional matches.

After confirming the potentially damaging impact of frequent heading, "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, M.D., Ph.D., associate director of Einstein’s Gruss Magnetic Resonance Research Center and medical director of MRI services at Montefiore.

Further analysis revealed a threshold level of approximately 1,000 to 1,500 heads per year. Once players in the study exceeded that number, researchers observed significant injury.

Repeatedly heading soccer ball increases risk for brain injury


Using advanced imaging techniques and cognitive tests, researchers have shown that repeatedly heading a soccer ball increases the risk for brain injury and cognitive impairment.

Source: Albert Einstein College of Medicine


Soccer - Heading Soccer Ball Linked with Brain Injuries