Study links soccer ball ‘heading’ to brain damage

January 11, 2012

Chicago – Soccer players who frequently "head" a soccer ball experience damage to the brain similar to victims of traumatic brain injuries, according to research presented recently at an annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

According to an RSNA press release, players who head a soccer ball 1,000 to 1,500 times per year showed signs of brain damage to regions that control attention, memory, planning, organizing, physical mobility and high-level visual functioning.

Researchers studied 32 amateur soccer players who have played soccer since their childhood, with an average age of 30.8 years old. The exposure to heading was assessed through a standardized questionnaire, according to the study abstract.

“Heading a soccer ball is not an impact of a magnitude that will lacerate nerve fibers in the brain,” study author Dr. Michael Lipton, associate director of the Gruss Magnetic Resonance Research Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said in the release. “But repetitive heading could set off a cascade of responses that can lead to degeneration of brain cells.”

Study authors recommended public health interventions to minimize excess exposure.