Effects of Early Soccer Heading on Adult Brain Function

Effects of Early Soccer Heading on Adult Brain Function

Heading of soccer balls is associated with subtle brain damage and cognitive problems later in life, leading to rules prohibiting young soccer players from heading. Little is known about how the age at which people begin to head soccer balls affects brain structure and function.

In a study published online on February 9 in Frontiers in Neurology, Michael Lipton, M.D., Ph.D., Molly Charney, and colleagues found that people who head the ball at age 10 or younger do not incur brain structural or functional brain effects that can be identified in adulthood. The study involved 276 active amateur soccer players (196 male and 81 female) aged 18 to 53 years old who were divided into two groups: those who began heading the ball at the age of 10 or under and those who were older than 10 at first exposure to heading. Using an imaging method called diffusion tensor MRI, the researchers found no evidence of differences in brain microstructure or behavioral measures between the two groups.

Dr. Lipton is professor of radiology and of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, associate professor in the Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience, and associate director of the Gruss Magnetic Resonance Research Center at Einstein and director of MRI services at Montefiore Health System. Ms. Charney, lead author on the paper, is a M.D. student in Dr. Lipton’s laboratory at Einstein.

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