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Soccer: repeatedly heading the ball can cause brain injury.

It seems rugby and Aussie rules aren't the only sports associated with brain injuries - soccer could well join the ranks with Israeli researchers finding the repeatedly 'heading' the ball can result in concussion like injury and impaired cognitive functioning.

Reported on It's My Health (www.itsmyhealth.com.au) the researchers used brain imaging techniques Israeli researchers found that 38 men who played soccer and said that they frequently ‘headed’ the ball had brain injuries similar to those seen in people with concussion, otherwise known as ‘mild traumatic brain injury’.

Soccer is one of the most popular games in the world and is often the preferred sport for primary school aged children as it is meant to be a ‘non-contact sport’ and therefore less likely to cause injury.

But the study authors, presenting their findings at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) in Chicago, said that in adult recreational games the ball can travel at speeds of more than 50 kms an hour. In professional matches is can reach speeds of more than 125 km/hour.

The researchers said that it was repetitive headings were the problem, and that it was players who played a lot were at highest risk.
They established a threshold of 1000-1500 headings a year as the point where injury was most likely to occur - which equates to a couple of times a day for people who play regularly.

The researchers said that "repetitive heading may set off a cascade of responses that can lead to degeneration of brain cells."

The researchers identified five areas, in the frontal lobe (behind the forehead) and in the temporo-occipital region (the bottom-rear areas) of the brain that were affected by frequent heading. Those areas are responsible for attention, memory, executive functioning and higher-order visual functions.
In a related study, the researchers gave the same 38 amateur soccer players tests designed to assess their neuropsychological function. Players with the highest annual heading frequency performed worse on tests of verbal memory and psychomotor speed (activities that require mind-body coordination, like throwing a ball) relative to their peers.

"These two studies present compelling evidence that brain injury and cognitive impairment can result from heading a soccer ball with high frequency," the researchers said. "These are findings that should be taken into consideration in planning future research to develop approaches to protect soccer players."

The impact of heading in children will be studies next. The researchers hope findings will be used to create safe guidelines for play in the future.

To read the full story visit http://www.itsmyhealth.com.au/healthy-living/news/brain-injury-from-soccer-heading