Doctors are warning that footballers are at an increasing risk of damaging their brain if they header a ball too often.
They believe the brain injuries that result from too many headers can cause problems with memory, sight, problem solving, planning and player’s attention span.
After studying the brain scans of amateur football players, the team of researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in America said the brain injuries they identified were consistent with those typically found in patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI).
However, they have said more research will need to be carried out to investigate the findings in more detail.
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According to the team, gradually developing brain injuries is most likely if a player headers the ball more than 1,000 times a year, the equivalent to just 20 headers a week.
Dr Michael Lipton, who led the research, commented on the findings: “Heading a soccer ball is not an impact of a magnitude that will lacerate nerve fibres in the brain.
“But repetitive heading could set off a cascade of responses that can lead to degeneration of brain cells.
“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 soccer players,” he added.
Explaining further, Lipton said: “In the past, pitchers in Little League Baseball sustained shoulder injuries at a rate that was alarming. But ongoing research has helped shape various approaches, including limits on the amount of pitching a child performs, which have substantially reduced the incidence of these injuries.”
As part of their investigations the team of scientists used an advanced MRI imaging technique – diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) – to generate scans of the brains of 32 players.
Collectively, the group had an average age of 30.8 years and had played the game since their childhood years.
When the team of researchers asked the players to recount how many times they had headed the ball within the last year, they found those who headed balls the most were developing the most severe brain injuries.
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