Blows to the head

March 22, 2009

By definition, a concussion is a sudden alteration of an alert state due to some sort of head trauma. Although the brain is capable of recovering after a concussion, the amount of force needed to cause permanent brain damage is unclear and is still being researched.
There have been studies indicating that heading the ball while playing soccer can lead to brain damage and dementia later on in life. It has been hypothesized that former England international footballer, Jeff Astle, died in 2002 due to a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated traumas to the brain that were related to heading a heavy leather football.
But the idea that heading the ball while playing soccer can cause brain damage is inconclusive. Dr. Andrew Rutherford, a psychologist at Keele University in England, has researched the neuropsychological consequences and found that these studies are not as valid as they may seem. Instead, these studies indicate that people compete to head the ball and may bump heads, which is the real factor that causes concussions and brain damage. Dr. Scott Delaney from the McGill University Health Center in Canada has also researched soccer-related head injuries and agrees that heading the ball rarely leads to acute concussion.
Boxers have also been afflicted with sport-related dementia that eventually led to Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s diseases. When compared to a normal sized brain, boxers’ brains are smaller and their ventricles (spaces in between the brain that are filled with cerebrospinal fluid) are enlarged.
Boxers experience concussions just as soccer players do when there are head traumas, but what about small bumps to the head that do not cause concussions? Do they have long-term cumulative effects in causing dementia?
There does not seem to be enough evidence supporting or disproving the idea that small bumps to the head, such as heading the soccer ball, can cause small traumas that can cause neurodegenerative diseases over time.
Just as studies have showns that boxers’ brains shrink and their ventricles enlarge, I suggest that the same studies should be done on soccer players who have not had any serious concussions, but who have headed the ball frequently. Their brains could then be compared to the brains of people who have had neurodegenerative diseases due to serious head trauma. These brain studies could help reveal if there is a cumulative effect of small injuries in causing brain degeneration.

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2 Responses to “Blows to the head”

  1. thebeerphilosopher said

    Just wait another fifteen years when the UFC gets sued for not disclosing the potential dangers of being repeatedly hit by the calloused fists of musclebound martial artists. No one said athletes were brain surgeons. This nearly proves it.

  2. Spirit said

    Very informative.

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