The Loh Down On Science

Doctors examine the risk associated with heading soccer balls

Lipton and others, Radiology, 2013.

The criteria used to enroll potential subjects in, or exclude them from, the research study.

Hey kids:  It’s good to use your head—but not in soccer!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Soccer players “head” the ball about twelve times per game, more during practices.

Michael Lipton of Albert Einstein College of Medicine wanted to know more.  In short, does this cause any lasting harm?

To wrap his head around the problem, Lipton brain-scanned amateur players. He looked for changes in the billions of nerve fibers called axons. Specifically? He looked at the movement of water molecules along axons.

In healthy axons, water movement is orderly. In abnormal axons, water movement can be more random.

And? The players who headed the most balls per year had the most random water movement. They also scored lower on memory tests.

Bottom line: a “header” here and there is pretty harmless. But repetitively heading a soccer ball? Say, over eighteen-hundred times per year?  This can lead to problems similar to those of traumatic brain injury.  Pro

So never mind shin guards, what about helmets?  And squishy Nerf soccer balls?  Just a suggestion.

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***** This Thursday, from 2-3 p.m. on the LDOS blog: Sandra chats with author Amy Alkon about her book I See Rude People.*****

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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