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Soccer ball 'heading' may cause brain injuries

Soccer players may be at risk for suffering a brain injury, according to a new study. The study used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) testing to analzye soccer players in the U.S. 

The study found that soccer players who repeatedly hit the soccer ball with their head, known as "heading," had changes in their brains comparable to people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries. 

Heading is a common move in soccer where players hit the soccer ball with the top of their head. Researchers shows that older, active soccer players head the ball on average five to six times each game. However, soccer players most often head the ball during practice where players may head the soccer ball up to 30 times in one practice session.

The researchers said that soccer heading may cause mild impacts to a player's head, similar to mild head injuries other people sustain in car accidents and other activities or accidents where a brain injury occurs.

The study found that soccer players who reported heading the ball more frequently during practice and games had lower cognitive values in the study compared to players who did not head the ball as often. Researchers said that heading leads to worse cognitive performance after a player heads the ball so many times.

They reported that there seems to be a threshold of the number of times a player can head the ball before suffering mild brain injury symptoms that lead to worse cognitive performance. The study reported that once a player passes the threshold, it may not matter how many more times they head the ball because the damage to the brain has already occurred.

The research specifically showed that players who headed the ball 1,800 times a year or more were more likely to have worse cognitive scores, including poor memory test results, compared to players who headed the ball less than that.

While the study concluded that heading the ball may not mean the player will suffer a brain injury, but evidence shows that the player's brain does change and the symptoms are similar to mild brain injuries so it is important to be aware of the signs of a brain injury and seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Source: Fox News, "Repetitive soccer ball 'heading' could lead to brain injury," Loren Grush, June 11, 2013

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