Football receives most of the attention lately when it comes to athletics-related traumatic brain injuries, but the latest findings from studies focused on another sport may give a greater reason to be alarmed.
Football is under heavy scrutiny for the high rates of traumatic brain injuries within the sport and their presumed association with the development of the neurodegenerative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). However, the most recent studies focused on soccer and so-called “headers” with signs of brain damage similar to CTE. The scary part is that the brain damage doesn’t appear to depend on clinically diagnosable traumatic brain injuries to form.
It is believed that the repeated hits to the head that may not otherwise create brain damage on their own may accumulate if the brain doesn’t have time to heal. Soccer players frequently use their head to direct the flight of the ball during games and practices, and it isn’t uncommon to see a player bouncing a ball on his head absentmindedly during their down-time.
Unfortunately, each one of those little bumps to the head appear to be racking up and creating long term brain damage. Previously, it was assumed the long-term brain damage being found in more violent sports like football and hockey were brought on by the more severe brain injuries more common to their games.
The Boston Globe put together a slide show which helps visualize how these “sub-concussive” hits create long term brain damage that can be potentially life-threatening. Headers are an essential part of how soccer is played, and they are responsible for many of the sports most iconic moments. However, the sport may need to make some changes in the future, at least at youth levels.