Neurology: Even a few headballs can significantly damage the brain

Study examines the effects of headballs on the human brain
Soccer headers can trigger significant changes in brain function. Researchers have now found that soccer ball headers can have negative effects on the head and brain.

The University of Stirling scientists found in their investigation that soccer players have significant changes in brain function after headballs. The triggers seem to be the effects of the shock from headers. The doctors published the results of their study in the "EbioMedicine" journal.

Doctors examine changes in the brain of soccer players
For the first time, the new study analyzes the direct changes that can be caused by headballs compared to the effects of brain injuries and concussions. The study was created because of concerns that soccer players' brains would be damaged by the repeated headers, the researchers say.

Early onset dementia from soccer headballs?
English football professional and striker Jeff Astle died in 2002. He suffered from early onset dementia and was only 59 years old at the time of his death. Some doctors thought that the disease was caused by the impact of headballs in soccer.

Doctors examine brain of dead soccer players
A subsequent examination of Astle's brain showed that the professional footballer suffered from so-called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE can only be diagnosed after death, the scientists say. The disease has also been discovered in deceased American footballers, boxers and rugby players.

Study simulates headers after corner kicks
The University of Stirling researchers have now examined a group of 19 soccer players by letting the subjects perform 20 headers during exercises. The ball was shot down by a machine. This is how the force and speed of a corner kick should be simulated, the authors explain. The scientists tested the brain functions and memory of the players. This happened before and immediately after the header exercises. Additional tests were done after 24 hours, 48 ​​hours, and two weeks, the doctors add.

Headers degrade memory
An increased inhibition of the brain was found after the subjects had only performed a single header exercise. The memory test performance was also reduced between 41 percent and 67 percent, the authors explain. The effects returned to normal within 24 hours.

Further research is urgently needed
Further studies are urgently needed to determine whether the brain changes after repeated headballs lead to long-term consequences for brain health. The changes found were only temporary, but they could still be of great importance for the health of our brain, the experts say. Especially when such shocks from headballs occur again and again. A large number of people around the world play soccer. That is why it is very important that the effects on the brain and the permanent negative consequences are examined more closely, the doctors add.

Results should lead to better protection in contact sports
For the first time, sports facilities and members of the public can see clear evidence of the risks associated with the effects of repeated headballs, the researchers explain. Hopefully, this finding can open up new approaches for the detection, monitoring and prevention of cumulative brain injuries in sports, the experts continued. The health of football players and individuals in other contact sports needs to be better protected in the long term. (as)

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