Heading a soccer ball, a staple of the game, could lead to more brain injury in women than in men.
Those are the findings of a new study published Tuesday in the journal Radiology, according to ABC News. Led by Dr. Michael Lipton, a neuroradiologist and neuroscientist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, researchers analyzed the MRI imaging of 49 female and 49 male amateur soccer players ages 18 to 50 and concluded that females who frequently head balls showed more white matter brain alterations as a result than male subjects did. Each female player was compared to a male player of a similar age and similar characteristics, including how often they headed the ball.
“We’re looking at the consequences of repeated sub-concussive injuries — impacts to the head that don’t lead to a diagnosis or symptoms of concussions,” Lipton said. “Lower fractional anisotropy [FA, a measure of brain injury] being associated with heading isn’t a new finding. The focus here was the sex differences in the context of that repetitive exposure.”
The study took place over a 12-month period and both male and female participants recorded a similar amount of headers, 487 for the men and 469 for the women. But the MRI results of the two genders were vastly different.
“We looked at where in the brain was the amount of heading associated with FA [the measure of brain injury],” Lipton said. “In men, there were three areas where we found a significant association. In women, we found eight areas.”
Lipton adds that what the study does is show definitively that the tissue of a woman’s brain is more sensitive to repetitive hits from a soccer ball than a man’s is.
“This is the first time anybody has put a definitive piece of information behind what has been a contentious dispute as to whether women’s brains are intrinsically more sensitive, or whether it’s an artifact of reporting of symptoms,” Lipton said.