Soccer ball

Does running a soccer ball cause brain damage?

Football title poses greater risk for young players


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It has become clear that impact sports like soccer and boxing can cause long-term brain damage. Now football is under intense scrutiny. As evidence accumulates that directing a soccer ball excessively can injure a player’s brain, professional players such as 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup star Brandi Chastain are capitalizing on this tournament. year to draw attention to the health risks faced by young female players. To learn more about the latest scientific advances in football and brain injury, American scientist spoke with Robert Cantu, professor of neurosurgery at the Boston University School of Medicine and co-founder of the Sports Legacy Institute.

[An edited transcript of the interview follows.]

What is the scientific evidence as to whether directing a soccer ball can cause brain damage?
Our results and those of other researchers show that running a soccer ball can contribute to neurodegenerative problems, such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Researchers who have followed soccer players have found a strong relationship between the number of caps made by a player and brain abnormalities. There have also been studies where researchers compared soccer players to swimmers, and swimmers ‘brains seemed perfectly normal while soccer players’ brains had abnormalities in their white matter fiber bundles. Nerve cells transmit their messages to other nerve cells through their fiber bundles, or axons, and if the brain is shaken violently enough, a person can have a disruption in its fiber bundles.

What are the effects of these brain abnormalities?
Excessive brain shaking (excessive concussion and concussion trauma) can lead to cognitive symptoms, including memory problems, as well as behavior and mood problems such as anxiety and depression. Other symptoms include trouble sleeping, dizziness, and headaches.

Do researchers see this brain damage later in life, after someone has stopped playing football?
We have yet to track these anomalies over the years. These studies are in progress. Do these anomalies disappear over time or not? We do not yet know the answer. It’s probably a bit of both.

Is there a force threshold below which a person can safely steer a ball?
The science is not there yet. We don’t even have a threshold that predicts the linear and rotational accelerations required to cause a concussion. Linear forces are measured in gravity, and we have measured hits in various sports up to 150 gThis is where people haven’t had concussions and we’ve had other people with hits as low as 50-60 g‘s who have had concussions. The other type of forces – rotational or torsional forces – which are measured in radians per second squared, we also don’t know the forces required to produce concussions.

We also don’t have a good idea of ​​the threshold required to produce sub-concussion trauma, which are punches to the head that do not produce symptoms but produce structural changes observable on neuroimaging.

Why are researchers taking so long to understand the effects of concussions and sub-concussions on the brain?
It is a very complex question. You have biomechanical forces that can be measured, like linear and rotational acceleration. But we are dealing with a human, not an inert object in a laboratory. There are a lot of biological factors that influence whether this human being has a concussion: how many concussions this person has had, how bad were those concussions, and how badly they happened. Other factors include: age: it is easier to have a concussion at an earlier age than in adulthood, and recovery is slower; neck strength – if you see the blow coming and you have a strong neck, you significantly reduce your risk of a concussion; hydration – if you are dehydrated you are more likely to have a concussion; and sex — women are more easily concussed than men.

What is your advice for football parents? Do you recommend an age limit for running a soccer ball?
We recommend that children under the age of 14 do not direct the ball in soccer, not play tackle soccer, and do not defeat the whole body in ice hockey. Impacts on the head are more damaging at this age, due to a number of structural and metabolic reasons. The brain of young people is not as myelinated as that of adults. Myelin is the coating of neural fibers, much like the coating of a telephone wire. It makes it easier to transmit signals and also gives neurons much greater strength, so young brains are more vulnerable.

Young people also have a disproportionately large head. By age five, their head is about 90 percent of their adult circumference, but the neck has not yet developed to this point. They have big heads on very weak necks and this bobblehead doll effect means you don’t have to impact the head so hard to cause damage.

Should the title be banned from football altogether?
It shouldn’t be banned because we don’t have enough evidence at this time to understand exactly what the risks are. The goal of this research is not to reduce soccer participation. The goal is to have more people playing soccer, but to make them play in a safer way at the youth level. This does not mean that young people cannot learn these skills. Instead of leading a soccer ball, they should practice leading with a beach ball.

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