'Heading' a soccer ball could lead to brain injury

November 29, 2011, Radiological Society of North America

Using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to study the effects of soccer 'heading,' researchers have found that players who head the ball with high frequency have brain abnormalities similar to those found in traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients. Results of their study were presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

Heading, in which players field the soccer ball with their head, is an essential part of the game and the focus of many training drills.

"Heading a soccer ball is not an impact of a magnitude that will lacerate in the brain," said Michael L. Lipton, M.D., Ph.D., associate director of the Gruss Magnetic Resonance Research Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and medical director of MRI services at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. "But repetitive heading could set off a cascade of responses that can lead to degeneration of ."

DTI, an advanced magnetic resonance (MR) technique, allows researchers to assess microscopic changes in the brain's white matter, which is composed of millions of nerve fibers called axons that act like communication cables connecting various regions of the brain. DTI produces a measurement, called fractional anisotropy (FA), of the movement of water molecules along axons. In healthy white matter, the direction of water movement is fairly uniform and measures high in FA. When water movement is more random, FA values decrease.

"Abnormally low FA within white matter has been associated with cognitive impairment in patients with TBI," Dr. Lipton said.

Using advanced imaging techniques and cognitive tests, researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and Montefiore Medical Center, the University Hospital for Einstein, have shown that repeatedly heading a soccer ball increases the risk for brain injury. Credit: Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Dr. Lipton and colleagues conducted DTI on 32 amateur soccer players (average age: 30.8 years), all of whom have played the sport since childhood. The researchers estimated how often each soccer player headed the ball on an annual basis and then ranked the players based on heading frequency. They then compared the of the most frequent headers with those of the remaining players and identified areas of the brain where FA values differed significantly.

"Between the two groups, there were significant differences in FA in five brain regions in the frontal lobe and in the temporooccipital region," Dr. Lipton said. "Soccer players who headed most frequently had significantly lower FA in these brain regions."

The five regions identified by the researchers are responsible for attention, memory, executive functioning and higher-order visual functions.

To assess the relationship between the frequency of heading and white matter changes, the researchers also compared the magnitude of FA in each brain region with the frequency of heading in each soccer player.

"Our goal was to determine if there is a threshold level for heading frequency that, when surpassed, resulted in detectable injury," Dr. Lipton said.

The analysis revealed a threshold level of approximately 1,000 to 1,500 heads per year. Once players in the study surpassed that level, researchers observed a significant decline in their FA in the five identified brain regions.

"What we've shown here is compelling evidence that there are changes that look like as a result of heading a soccer ball with high frequency," Dr. Lipton said. "Given that soccer is the most popular sport worldwide and is played extensively by children, these are findings that should be taken into consideration in order to protect players."

Explore further: Study evaluates brain lesions of older patients

Related Stories

Study evaluates brain lesions of older patients

July 9, 2007
Lesions commonly seen on MRI in the brains of older patients may be a sign of potentially more extensive injury to the brain tissue, according to a recent study conducted by researchers at the Duke University Medical Center, ...

A convincing calculation: ten soccer players ensure excitement

March 13, 2006
One ball, two goals and 22 soccer players – and the game can begin. But why are there ten players of one team on the field and no more or less? This is what Metin Tolan, professor for experimental physics at the University ...

Does amateur boxing cause brain damage?

May 2, 2007
Blows to the head in amateur boxing appear to cause brain damage, according to research that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 59th Annual Meeting in Boston, April 28 – May 5, 2007.

Strong link found between concussions and brain tissue injury (w/ Video)

August 24, 2009
Concussions, whether from an accident, sporting event, or combat, can lead to permanent loss of higher level mental processes. Scientists have debated for centuries whether concussions involve structural damage to brain tissue ...

Chronic back pain linked to changes in the brain

November 28, 2006
A German research team using a specialized imaging technique revealed that individuals suffering from chronic low back pain also had microstructural changes in their brains. The findings were presented today at the annual ...

Novel imaging technique shows gray matter increase in brains of autistic children

November 28, 2007
Using a novel imaging technique to study autistic children, researchers have found increased gray matter in the brain areas that govern social processing and learning by observation. Results of the study conducted at the ...

Recommended for you

Self-control and obesity: Gender matters in children

July 16, 2018
A toddler's self-regulation—the ability to change behavior in different social situations—may predict whether he or she will be obese come kindergarten, but the connection appears to be much different for girls than for ...

1 in 9 U.S. adults over 45 reports memory problems

July 13, 2018
(HealthDay)—If you're middle-aged and you think you're losing your memory, you're not alone, a new U.S. government report shows.

Antioxidant benefits of sleep

July 12, 2018
Understanding sleep has become increasingly important in modern society, where chronic loss of sleep has become rampant and pervasive. As evidence mounts for a correlation between lack of sleep and negative health effects, ...

Footwear habits influence child and adolescent motor skill development

July 11, 2018
New research finds that children and adolescents who spend most of their time barefoot develop motor skills differently from those who habitually wear shoes. Published in Frontiers in Pediatrics, this is the first study to ...

How a Mediterranean diet could reduce osteoporosis

July 11, 2018
Eating a Mediterranean-type diet could reduce bone loss in people with osteoporosis—according to new research from the University of East Anglia.

Extreme heat and reduced cognitive performance in adults in non-air-conditioned buildings

July 10, 2018
Students who lived in dormitories without air conditioning (AC) during a heat wave performed worse on a series of cognitive tests compared with students who lived in air-conditioned dorms, according to new research led by ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.