A small study suggests that playing university soccer can cause brain tissue shrinkage. Adding further evidence, to the fact that sports carry the risk of long term brain injury.
The researchers used high-resolution MRI brain scans on ten male college soccer players and compared it with the another 10 young men who had never played the sport. It was found that the players had reduced gray matter in the brain.
John Adams and colleagues at the University Of Cincinnati College Of Medicine in Ohio carried out the research and the report is published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine.
Some earlier studies have also shown that professional soccer player and even some college players have shown instances of memory and attention problems.
In the current study reduced gray matter was seen in a part of the brain called the anterior temporal cortex — which is consistent with effects from repeated knocks to the front of the head.
Grey matter refers to the brain tissue that controls thinking and memory. The significance of the relatively smaller gray matter volume and density seen in these players is not yet clear, the researchers say.
Soccer is a game where the risk of concussion is much greater. Heading the ball or players colliding with one another on the field all raise the risk of brain injury.
Among the 10 players, only two said they'd suffered a mild concussion in the past, while none reported a history of serious head injury. It's impossible to tell exactly why the players showed relatively less gray matter than the comparison group.
"I'd be very reluctant to ascribe this purely to heading," said study co-author Dr Caleb Adler, an assistant professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the University Of Cincinnati College Of Medicine. The bottom line, he said, is that while these findings are preliminary, they add to evidence that soccer is "not an entirely benign sport."
"Any activity is a balance of risk and benefits," Adler said. Some youth soccer leagues ban heading before a certain age, he noted.
Widely considered to be the most popular sport in the world, the news might come as bad news to many Americans who have taken up the sport but good safety measure, like a headgear can reduce the risk associated with soccer.