New Study Says Soccer Headers May Be Causing TBI

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Source: Dirk Hansen

Soccer has a concussion problem rivaling that of the NFL, but it is less publicized because American’s just don’t seem to care about soccer and sadly the fact that majority of TBI sufferers in the sport are female may be contributing to the low profile.

Most likely, these incidents of traumatic brain injury aren’t coming from colliding with other players like in football, though there are definitely cases of soccer collisions causing brain injury. One would assume many of these concussions have to do with sliding kicks or simple falls, but that may not even be the case. According to a new study lead by neurologist Anne Sereno suggests “headers” or directing a flying soccer ball with your head, may be creating numerous concussions through repeated sub-concussive blows, rather than a single incident.

The front part of the brain, which you use to head the ball, controls short-term memory, working memory, impulse control and attention, according to Click2Houston.com. In a normal practice it is entirely possible a player will practice heading, and thus hit the ball with their heads upwards of ten times in short succession.

Sereno studied the effects of these sub-concussive hits by creating an iPad app that measures cognitive function by making players touch a target on the screen as quickly as possible, or touch the opposite coordinate of the target. The study, published in PLoS ONE, tested just twelve female varsity soccer players between fifteen and eighteen years old immediately after practice compared to twelve similar girls who play non-contact sports.

The tests showed small 30-to 50-millisecond changes in response time. That seems tiny, but that amount of difference is significant and in line with mild traumatic brain injury.

The test is much too small to be considered definitive and it is unclear how long the cognitive deficit is present, but it seems logical that repeatedly using your head to hit a ball might be creating some damage. Even worse, in actual games the headers are directing balls moving at much faster speeds, which may be creating worse injuries.

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