Women’s brains seem to be affected more by the direction of a soccer ball than men’s brains, according to a new study.
A study using brain scans shows distinct patterns of brain damage in female footballers compared to male players. And women in general had more brain matter affected, the researchers reported Tuesday in the journal Radiology.
This does not necessarily translate into symptoms. None of the women in the study had more symptoms than the men, said the team at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.
But it may help explain why other studies have shown female footballers are more likely to report concussion symptoms than male players.
“Researchers and clinicians have long noted that women fare worse than men after a head injury, but some have said it’s only because women are more willing to report symptoms,” the Dr Michael Lipton, professor of radiology and psychiatry at Albert Einstein who led the study team, said in a statement.
And much of the brain injury diagnosis is subjective, based on what people say they have experienced.
Brain scans overcome this problem, Lipton said.
“Based on our study, which measured objective changes in brain tissue rather than self-reported symptoms, women appear to be more likely than men to experience brain trauma after running soccer balls,” a- he declared.
Lipton’s team studied 49 men and 49 women who all played in amateur football leagues. None had any sign of a head injury.
“Participants were asked how often they directed the ball on average during each type of session (training vs competition) and in each setting (indoor vs outdoor), how many times per week they participated in each and how many months per year they played football, ”the researchers wrote in their report.
Next, the volunteers received a specialized type of magnetic resonance imaging called diffusion tensor imaging. It can show tissue damage on a very fine scale.
The women who led the most often had eight regions of the brain that exhibited damage, while the men had three main regions of damage. And more of the overall area of the brain tended to be damaged in women than in men.
“The five times greater volume of affected white matter that we identified in females compared to males indicated a higher burden of microstructural consequences in female headers,” they wrote.
“Our findings add to a growing body of evidence that men and women express distinct biological responses to brain damage.”
It’s not known why, but the researchers pointed out that women have smaller necks than men, which could cause their head to move differently, possibly shaking and damaging the brain in different ways.
There is no doubt that directing the ball can cause brain damage. A 2015 study of high school soccer players published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the head accounted for 30 percent of concussions in male players and 25 percent of those in girls.
In adults, too, the ball head is only one part of concussions. Players are also often kicked, slapped to the ground, and whipped in fast play.
Being able to identify damage early is important, Lipton said. Football players, combat veterans and others often suffer from a degenerative brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy. There is no cure for this and concussions seem to be heavily involved.
“In various brain injuries, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy, subclinical pathology develops before we can detect brain damage that affects function,” Lipton said.
“So before serious dysfunction occurs, it’s wise to identify risk factors for cumulative brain damage – like the head if you’re female – so people can take action to prevent further damage and maximize recovery. “
The title doesn’t have to be banned, he said.
“We have done a number of studies showing that most players seem to tolerate some level of heading,” said Lipton.
“Limiting the number of heads allowed in football could have similar benefits in preventing head injuries. But we can’t recommend specific numbers at this point. Fully understanding the risk of heading will take a lot more work.