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Neuroimaging studies: In soccer, over one thousand “headers” per year can lead to brain injury and cognitive impairment

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Study indi­cates there may be a head­ing thresh­old above which the risk for brain dam­age increas­es sig­nif­i­cant­ly: An Inter­view with Michael L. Lip­ton (Dana Foun­da­tion):

Dr. Lip­ton pio­neered the use of MRI tech­nol­o­gy to detect mild trau­mat­ic brain injuries (mTBI) from con­cus­sions. Such injuries, which may bring cog­ni­tive and behav­ioral impair­ment and even neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion lat­er in life in some indi­vid­u­als, is increas­ing­ly seen as a major pub­lic health prob­lem–in par­tic­u­lar for those who play con­tact sports. Accord­ing to the US Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol: “From 2001 to 2009, the num­ber of annu­al TBI-relat­ed [emer­gency room] vis­its increased sig­nif­i­cant­ly, from 153,375 to 248,418, with the high­est rates among males aged 10–19 years.”

With sup­port from the Dana Foun­da­tion and the Nation­al Insti­tutes of Health, Lip­ton has con­duct­ed neu­roimag­ing stud­ies on soc­cer play­ers, who fre­quent­ly jolt their brains by “head­ing” the ball. His goal is to under­stand bet­ter the rela­tion­ship between head impacts and result­ing brain dam­age and cog­ni­tive impair­ments.

…peo­ple who report­ed few­er than about 1,000 head­ers in the pre­vi­ous year gen­er­al­ly stayed in the nor­mal range on brain imag­ing and func­tion tests. But those who exceed­ed 1,000 head­ers per year had on aver­age a dra­mat­ic reduc­tion in FA (Note: frac­tion­al anisotropy, a mea­sure of neu­ronal health) as well as in cog­ni­tive per­for­mance. So this was at least a pre­lim­i­nary indi­ca­tion that there may be a thresh­old above which the risk for adverse effects on the brain goes up steeply—and that those who can keep below that lev­el of expo­sure may be rel­a­tive­ly safe…

And now we’re see­ing evi­dence that mul­ti­ple events like that, in quick suc­ces­sion, can have espe­cial­ly adverse effects. So the most impor­tant piece of advice for some­one who has just been con­cussed is to avoid hits to the head again until he’s had time for a full recov­ery. But if he doesn’t rec­og­nize the first con­cus­sion, he won’t be care­ful to avoid the sec­ond one—he’ll go right back onto the field and run the risk of being hit again and again.”

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Categories: Cognitive Neuroscience, Health & Wellness

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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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