Brain imaging has shown that the head of a soccer ball affects women’s brains more than men’s, a study has found. Radiology earlier this week. The study adds to a growing body of research that shows women are more susceptible to head impact.
The researchers examined the brain images of 49 male and 49 female soccer players who had each headed a soccer ball more than 400 times. Women had five times more damaged white matter in their brains than men, demonstrating that their brains also had more areas susceptible to potential injury.
Lead author Michael Lipton, MD, PhD, a neuroradiologist and neuroscientist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said in an interview with NPR that white matter in the brain can be compared to a fiber optic cable, which connects a computer network. White matter is made up of threadlike axonal nerve fibers that connect neurons to each other and their protective envelope, myelin.
Cape causes these brain tissues to become disorganized, Lipton explained. He also pointed out that the research is not about concussions. Instead, it measures “subconcussive injuries” or repeated impacts that cause no immediate and recognized problem for the player, but which could be problematic in the long term.
With the latest developments in brain research, it is highly doubtful that anyone should head a soccer ball or have the repetitive sports head injuries regularly seen in the normal game of ice hockey or American football, but it is clear that females can sustain more damage after the same amount of injury. American football is reducing kickoff violence this fall as it is the most common game where serious head injuries occur. The NFL is likely to pay $1.5 billion to former players or their surviving families for the issue of permanent head injuries due to trauma in normal play of the game.
For several reasons, these football head imaging results come as no surprise. We already know that concussions in women are more serious than those in men with equivalent applied force: they make women more unable to function and they last much longer. Some possible factors are obvious, such as women having thinner skulls. Women also, in general, have thinner bones, lighter builds and weaker sinews. Currently, proportionally more female athletes injure their knees and ankles than male athletes in equivalent sports.
I think we should ban headers in all of football, but I think banning headers in women’s football needs to be done now before we find out the likely adverse consequences in 20 years.
If your child plays soccer, I strongly recommend discussing this issue with your league to see if any rules could potentially be changed. Discourage your child from directing the ball unless absolutely necessary. It’s time for football to take a closer look at its safety measures for all of its players.