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Warning: Repetitive Heading in Soccer is Dangerous

We have always known that repetitively heading a soccer ball in practice and games is dangerous. Now, a new study reveals how heading affects experienced players. Soccer parents should read on to realize the impact this sport has on their offspring.

The Study
The research study was conducted at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine located in New York. Thirty-four adult soccer players were recruited and asked to fill out a questionnaire on the number of times they headed a soccer ball during practice and whether they had suffered concussions playing the sport. The players also underwent tests to analyze their cognitive skills and memory. Their brains were scanned using a novel MRI technology called diffusion tensor imaging. This technique reveals structural changes that occur in the brain which cannot be detected by most other scans.

Startling Findings
The researchers found that players who had headed the ball greater than 1,100 times in the past year suffered brain damage in the parts associated with visual information processing, attention and memory. The damage was greater in players who had headed the ball more number of times. Repetitively heading the ball also affected the players’ memory and they fared badly at recalling words read out to them. These players often tended to fumble or forget the words. The researchers opine frequent heading significantly impacts the brain. Previous studies in Europe had revealed that heading caused memory deficits in retired soccer players.

Last Year’s Study
Last year, the Humboldt State University located in California had conducted a comprehensive study on the health of their soccer players before and after the collegiate season. The researchers found that because of heading practice the players performed much worse after the season in tests to check visual memory. The soccer players also suffered more episodes of dizziness and headaches compared to other players. The researchers say heading affects memory because it damages the brain parts associated with this function.

Heading Threshold
Researchers say it appears to be safe to keep the heading threshold at about 1,100 balls in a year. Heading starts to create problems only if the number increases beyond 1,100 times a year. Soccer parents are worried about the impact of heading on their growing kids’ brains. More research is definitely required on this aspect.

Subtle Effects
Researchers also say the effects of brain damage due to heading seem to be subtle. Most affected players seem to be free of memory problems. Still, precautions are required. For one, children younger than 12 should not be allowed to head the soccer ball. Parents need to monitor their kids’ health and ask them if they experience dizziness or headache during and after practice. Common sense and medical research suggest that repetitive heading in soccer should be curbed to prevent brain damage.

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