A study at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York presented findings last year to the Radiological Society of North America pertaining to soccer players, and the practice of heading the ball.  They concluded that young adult players in the study who had headed the ball more than 1,100 times in the previous 12 months showed significant loss of white matter in parts of their brains pertaining to attention, memory, and the processing of visual information. White matter is the brain’s communication wiring, the axons and other structures that relay messages between neurons.  Dr. Michael Lipton, senior author of the study and associate director of the Gruss Magnetic Resonance Research Center at Einstein said…”Based on these results, it does look like there is a potential for significant effects on the brain from frequent heading.  However, Dr.Lipton adds…”What our research shows is that there appears to be a threshold – about 1,100 or so balls headed in a single year – a substantial number, beyond which heading may be problematic.  Below that threshold, it appears that heading is safe.  So our research is actually optimistic, I think.”

Elizabeth Larson, a researcher at Humboldt State University in California has also studied the effects of heading the ball.  She believes there is a growing consensus that kids younger than 12 years old should not be doing it.  She suggests asking a child if he or she has headaches or dizziness after a game or practice.  Larson also urges parents to check with the coach about reducing the frequency of heading drills.”Noone is suggesting that heading should be outlawed, but science and common sense both indicate that it’s almost certainly not a good idea to practice heading over and over and over.”     NYTimes December 2011

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