Football may have substantial brain injury risks

Sustaining an injury, especially a head injury while playing sport is a regular hazard and scientists have long been concerned over people who are boxing, or playing cricket and hockey. However, researchers have recently raised concerns over another type of sport that can potentially be damaging to the brains of players. Scientists have recently been scanning the brains of football players who often use their head against the ball. Many of these players were shown to have subtle signs of damage to their brain.

Scientists from the Albert Einstein College of medicine which is located in New York studied around 40 football players who’ve been playing since they were children. The players were asked whether they regularly head the ball and it was found that those who did had brain injuries similar to those found in trauma patients.

The team of researchers was led by Dr Michael Lipton and he commented, “We were looking at the players for something called fractional anisotropy which measures how uniform water molecules are behaving in the brain. If they are behaving irregularly this suggests there is some form of brain damage.”

The study found that players who were regularly heading the ball had water molecules behaving in a more random fashion suggesting that their method of play was causing physical injury. The study found that the areas of the brain that were most affected included those responsible for executive functioning, memory and attention.

Dr Lipton continued, “These initial findings are quite worrying and this seems to be clear evidence showing that this type of play can cause the brain injury. From this we can make a clear recommendation to players that they should not be heading the ball. There does need to be further research conducted to see what the long-term effects of this type of brain injury might be. Hitting the ball with your head once off will not cause any serious damage but doing it repetitively might lead to the brain cells degenerating.”

ThinkFirst is a non-profit group that raised concerns that heading the ball might cause some form of brain injury. They’ve recently published guidelines on how to head the ball in a safe manner. Many people have become concerned that football is a sport that is particularly popular among children and the reports from ThinkFirst say that the technique should not be taught to children at a young age.”

The researchers behind the study are well aware that the technique is an important part of football and something they are unlikely to be able to ban. Therefore they have decided to try and find a safe limit for the number of times the head can hit a ball before damage becomes permanent. The study found that those who hit the ball with their head over 1000 times a year had the most significant brain injuries, this figure might seem very high but for someone who regularly plays football this means they will only be having to head the ball a few times a day.