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The Risks Involved With Frequent Heading in Soccer

June is National Safety Month. Our last article, Stay Safe This Swimming Season was the first of the series on safety and we will continue the theme this week with news from the world of soccer, a sport very close to Dr. Ferrara’s heart.

Soccer can be very beneficial in keeping the body in great condition. It increases cardiovascular health and aerobic capacity. It can help to build strength, flexibility, and endurance. Other benefits include coordination, teamwork, concentration, and discipline.

According to a recent study published in Frontiers of Neurology, there may be a link between soccer heading, the technique that involves using the head to pass and control the ball, and changes in cognitive function.

“Unintentional head impacts are generally considered the most common cause of diagnosed concussions in soccer, so it’s understandable that current prevention efforts aim at minimizing those collisions,” said study leader, Michael Lipton, M.D., Ph.D., F.A.C.R., professor of radiology and of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Einstein and medical director of MRI Services at Montefiore. “But intentional head impacts — that is, soccer ball heading — are not benign. We showed in a previous study that frequent heading is an under-appreciated cause of concussion symptoms. And now we’ve found that heading appears to alter cognitive function as well, at least temporarily.”

Dr. Ferrara, a passionate fan, player, and team doctor for the Atlanta Silverbacks soccer team, advises that the benefits of soccer and other sports can definitely outweigh the risks but you have to be smart about it. Be sure and warm up or have your kids warm up before starting to play. Stay fit to avoid injury. Know your physical limits and don’t overdo it. Keep fluids available and make sure to stay hydrated. Wear protective equipment. And now, be aware that frequent ball heading could do long-term harm.