Soccer players who frequently “head” the ball are risking brain damage if they regularly play the game for years, suggests a study presented today at the Radiological Society of North America annual meeting.
A team of researchers led by Michael Lipton, director of the Gruss Magnetic Resonance Research Center at Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, N.Y., scanned the brains of 39 New York-based soccer players from amateur leagues, average age 31, who’d played the game regularly over many years, Bloomberg Businessweek reported. The researchers found that players who said they hit the ball with their heads more than 1,300 times a year, which amounts to a few times a day, were more likely to have mild brain trauma.
Players who headed frequently also did worse on tests of verbal memory and reaction times, BBC News reported.
“Excessive heading definitely seems to be associated with impairment of memory and processing speed,” Lipton told CNN. “Soccer may not be as benign as people thought it was.”
“We have the potential for an intervention that could really mitigate this problem, which is do the further research to completely define the range of heading that’s safe,” Lipton told Bloomberg Businessweek. “There seems to be a potential for a threshold below which the activity might be safe but above which might lead to long-term problems.”