Heading too many footballs can lead to brain damage, experts reveal - Sydney Morning Herald

Heading too many footballs can lead to brain damage, experts reveal

Nicky Phillips Science December 01, 2011

TIM CAHILL built his career on it, Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the world's best, and Greece won Euro 2004 using the technique.

Heading a football may be an important skill for any player, but the action can also damage the brain in the process.

New research has found using your head to intercept a kick, make a pass or score a goal can lead to brain abnormalities similar to those seen in people with traumatic brain injuries.

American neuroscientists used brain images to compare the brain structure of 32 amateur male players, who averaged 30 years of age and had played football since childhood.

Those who performed heading skills most frequently had more significant changes to the brain's white matter, which is made of millions of nerve fibres called axons that transport the brain's electrical impulses, compared with players who preferred using their feet.

Scientists used specialised imaging, known as diffusion tensor imaging, to observe changes in the movement of water along an axon, a measurement known as fractional anisotropy (FA).

In healthy white matter, water movement is largely uniform and gives a high FA reading.

One of the study's authors, Michael Lipton, said abnormally low FA within white matter had been associated with cognitive impairment in patients with traumatic brain injury.

Players who performed between 1000 to 1500 headers per year had significantly lower readings than those who used the skill less. Previous studies have shown players who frequently used the technique performed almost 20 per cent worse in memory tests compared with those who did less heading.

''What we've shown here is compelling evidence that there are brain changes that look like traumatic brain injury as a result of heading a soccer ball with high frequency,'' said Dr Lipton.

''Given that soccer is the most popular sport worldwide … these are findings that should be taken into consideration to protect players,'' he said, when presenting his findings to the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago this week.

30 Nov, 2011

Source: http://news.google.com/news/url?sa=t&fd=R&usg=AFQjCNF_rzCI5snod1Wf7MPOCI79oq2vzQ&url=http://m.smh.com.au/sport/football/heading-too-many-footballs-can-lead-to-brain-damage-experts-reveal-20111130-1o76k.html
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