Heading the Ball in Soccer May Affect Women's and Men's Brains Differently

Thursday, August 02, 2018

In a new study from researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine (Radiology. 2018;July 31), imaging findings suggest that heading the ball in soccer may affect women's brains differently than men's brains. Fractional anisotropy (FA) in brain white matter was measured with diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and used as a marker for microstructural brain damage. 

Study subjects included 49 female amateur soccer players and 49 male amateur soccer players. The age range for both men and women was 18-50, with a median age of 26. Both men and women self-reported a similar number of headings over the previous year, which were an average of 487 for the male group and 469 for the female group.

The FA volume was 5 times larger in women than in men in this study. In addition, women had 8 regions of the brain with FA, whereas the men had only 3 regions of FA. 

Lead investigator Michael L. Lipton, MD, PhD stated, “Researchers and clinicians have long noticed that women fare worse following head injury than men, but some have said that's only because women are more willing to report symptoms. Based on our study, which measured objective changes in brain tissue rather than self-reported symptoms, women do seem more likely than men to suffer brain trauma from heading soccer balls."

About 30 million women and girls play soccer worldwide, according to the International Federation of Association Football, known as FIFA, the international governing body of soccer. Reasons why women might be more sensitive to head injury than men remain unknown. Researchers speculate that differences in neck strength, sex hormones, or genetics could play a role. 

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