Heading a Soccer Ball Might Be a Cognitive Health Hazard

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In what is beginning to feel like a determined effort to take every ounce of fun out of life, a new study has been published that indicates that heading the ball while playing soccer may be hazardous to your cognitive health.

Specifically, advanced imaging of the brains of soccer players who head the ball with frequency appear to have alterations in their brains that look similar to those seen in patients who have suffered traumatic head injuries.

If that weren't enough, these players also appear to be at higher risk of having cognitive problems.

This same research team, evidently struck with a vendetta against heading soccer balls, earlier published a paper that argued heading the ball can affect the entire brain and can lead to brain injury.

Says Michael Lipton, MD, PhD, associate director of Einstein's Gruss Magnetic Resonance Research Center:

Our study provides compelling preliminary evidence that brain changes resembling mild traumatic brain injury are associated with frequently heading a soccer ball over many years. While further research is clearly needed, our findings suggest that controlling the amount of heading that people do may help prevent brain injury that frequent heading appears to cause.

Heading a soccer ball can affect memory

Lipton and his colleagues determined that players who head the ball 1,800 times in a year were more likely to perform worse on memory tests than players who headed the ball less often.

Traumatic brain injury from sport is a major concern at the youth level all the way up to the professional level. Progressive brain diseases have been associated with the repetitive head blows seen in football, hockey and boxing.

That said, these same brain injuries and progressive brain diseases are being found in people who go to a lot of rock concerts and do a lot of 'head-banging,' along with circus dwarves who are part of dwarf-throwing events and victims of domestic abuse.

What seems clear is that brain trauma occurs pretty easily. What isn't so clear is whether it has any quantifiable effect on our quality of life, especially if the alternative is to not participate in sports and other activities.

The study appears in the journal Radiology.

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