While any sport can cause an injury, we generally think of soccer as relatively safe. After all, it isn’t currently embroiled in a head-injury scandal like the National Football League. Rough contact is not part of the game, like it is in hockey.
But a new study finds that a common soccer technique might make the world’s most popular sport dangerous for the brain. A study by Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that “heading” a soccer ball – knocking an airborne ball with the head towards the net or a teammate—was linked to damage resembling a traumatic brain injury, or TBI. The findings were published in Radiology.
“Subconcussions” More Serious Than They Sound
Experts believe heading a soccer ball causes what is known a subconcussive event – that is, trauma to the brain that is short of a full-blown concussion. While this might sound preferable, over time these may be even more damaging than concussions, CNN reported.
Researchers used what’s known as diffusion tensor imaging – a sophisticated MRI technique – to study the brains of 37 amateur soccer players who have each played weekly for an average of 22 years. The players who headed the ball most often had the lowest levels of important nerve fibers in the brain – something seen in people who have sustained concussions. They also scored the worst on memory tests.
They found that the threshold of how many times a player can head the ball without sustaining injury varied.
It is the progressive nature of these kinds of injuries that make them disturbing. There is no traumatic event or overt injury that makes it apparent that the brain has been damaged.
“For many people, it’s beyond belief that minor injuries could be a problem,” Dr. Michael Lipton, the lead author of the study, told the Los Angeles Times.
This does not mean you should be afraid to play soccer. Some of the people studied used their heads to hit a soccer ball more than 1,000 times a year. What we can take away from this study, however, is that it is another piece of evidence that no brain trauma is truly minor. There are always consequences. Sometimes they occur immediately; other times they take years.
The Brain Injury Law Center is a law firm that focuses on representing people who have suffered serious brain injuries. When these injuries are the fault of another, we help them get justice. Contact us if you or a loved one have suffered a serious brain injury.