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soccer and the potential for brain damage


Soccer Headers and Brain Damage

Michal Jarmoluk – Kielce/Polska – Pixabay

I have known for a long time that heading a soccer ball can be both painful and dangerous.  The very first article I wrote for the Standard News back in 1992 had to do with the amount of Degenerative Arthritis in the necks of professional soccer players as compared to the general population (double).  In light of all the recent concern about concussions in football (and rightly so), it is not surprising that we are starting to see some similar research coming out about the affects of soccer.  A brand new study shows that repetitive sub-clinical trauma to the head —- even though it is not severe enough to cause a concussion —- changes the brain’s white matter.

This was reported by yesterdays issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).  The study was unique because cutting edge technology was used to make these determinations.  And interestingly enough, none of the damage showed up on traditional brain scans.  According to Dr Inga Koerte and colleagues of Harvard Medical Schools Psychiatry Neuroimaging Laboratory, elite soccer players who routinely perform “Headers” (directing the soccer ball with their head) had several significant findings on brain scans that were indicative of changes in their white matter.  What does the white matter do?  Here is what an online encyclopedia says, “White matter, long thought to be passive tissue, actively affects how the brain learns and dysfunctions. Whilst grey matter is primarily associated with processing and cognition, white matter modulates the distribution of action potentials, acting as a relay and coordinating communication between different brain regions“. 

Although they did not go as far as saying that heading the soccer ball was causal to the various problems they listed (I did not list these problems on my blog because no one would have understood most of it), they did say that it was a distinct possibility (probability).  This is why when I coach soccer (I have been coaching soccer for over a decade), we never practice heading the ball.  After this, I will probably completely disallow it in children under high school age.  This is because not only does the repetitive trauma lead to neurological damage, it leads to AUTOIMMUNITY as well.  HERE is a post on Autoimmune Diseases related to TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury).


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