Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 13th 2013 Contents B44
body & soul
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Thursday, June 13, 2013
When compared to the bone-jarring crash
between two football helmets, heading a soccer ball
might seem almost innocuous. But those seemingly
mild hits to a soccer player s head may damage the
brain at a deep, molecular level, according to a new
"It s entirely possible that the innumerable sub-
concussive hits that those players have may really
be a culprit (for brain injury) as well," said Dr Michael
Lipton, associate director of the Gruss Magnetic Res-
onance Research Center at the Albert Einstein College
of Medicine in New York and the study s lead author.
The theory gaining ground among many concussion
experts is that the unfortunately-named "subcon-
cussive" hits---less-forceful hits that don t cause an
overt concussion---when they accumulate over time,
may prove to be more damaging than their more
That means seemingly subtle hits---jostling the
brain by bouncing a ball off of it---when they happen
over and over again, could be just as bad as a more
"Long-term damage may have less to do with the
number of diagnosed concussions and perhaps more
do to with the number of subconcussive impacts to
the head," said Kevin Guskiewicz, the chair of Exercise
and Sport Science at the University of North Carolina
at Chapel Hill, who was not involved in the study.
Lipton and colleagues studied 37 young, healthy,
amateur soccer players who headed the ball between
as few as 32 and as many as 5,400 times during the
preceding ten-month season.
Players filled out a questionnaire to gauge the num-
ber of times they headed the ball the previous year;
they also underwent tests of their attention and
memory, and had their brains scanned.
The scans revealed an association between heading
and damage to white matter (brain tissue that helps
to convey signals across brain regions), but with a
In similar studies of subconcussive impact, the
association tends to be: The more hits to the head,
the more damage to the brain. Basically, "...the more
you head the ball, the worse cognition gets," said
Lipton. "But we found that s not the case."
In Lipton s study, published on Tuesday in the
journal Radiology, players had to reach a certain num-
ber of headers before the brain scan reflected damage.
After that threshold was reached, brain function
It took between 900 and 1,500 headers for abnor-
malities to be discernible on brain scans. But the first
obvious indication of a problem outside the brain
occurred around 1,800 headers, when players in the
small sample had measurable problems with
The suggestion is that the brain s intrinsic
ability to repair itself works, to a point. After
that point, however, the brain cannot keep
pace and becomes overwhelmed.
"That tells us that pathological change
happens at a lower level than clinical man-
ifestation of problems," said Lipton.
In short, there is a tipping point---and
that point is different for everyone.
We are years away from knowing
whether---like pitching limits to protect
young baseball players elbows and shoul-
ders---we are on the cusp of heading limits
for soccer players. And in this study,
Guskiewicz points out that we do not know
how the players previous history of sub-
concussive hits may have affected the out-
come of their brain scans in this study.
"This one study should not place a cloud
over the sport of soccer," said Guskiewicz.
"This is an interesting finding, but there is
much more to be learned about this."
And the usual caveats apply to this small
study: A larger study group will give more
nuance and clarity to the still-murky issue
of long-term damage conferred by subcon-
Lipton and his colleagues are in the midst
of recruiting hundreds of soccer players for
that study, to take an even closer look at
heading, brain changes, even the role of
"We are absolutely not making any rec-
ommendations that people should lock to
some specific threshold (for heading)," said
Lipton. "We don t know yet." (cnn.com)
Heading football may be bad for brain
YOUR DAILY HEALTH
News and Advice
Heading a soccer ball might seem innocuous, but
those seemingly mild hits to a soccer player's head
may damage the brain at a deep, molecular level.
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