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Doctors Study Whether Soccer Players Could Face Brain Damage Risks

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TWC News: Doctors Study Whether Soccer Players Could Face Brain Damage Risks
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Much attention has been paid in recent years to the effects of repeated concussions on football players, but now a group of researchers in the Bronx are studying whether there may be similar brain trauma to soccer players. NY1's Health reporter Erin Billups filed the following report.

Hitting and hitting and hitting a soccer ball with your head could be a problem over time, according to researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University.

"It's not only the overt concussions where someone is knocked out and clearly knows that an injury has happened, but perhaps more mild impacts, especially if they accumulate over a period of time, that might have an additive effect," says Dr. Michael Lipton of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Lipton and his team studied 39 soccer players over a year, assessing how much heading they had done, testing their cognitive skills and studying MRIs of their brains.

Carla Garcia, one of the athletes in the study, has been playing soccer since she was 5 years old.

"I head the ball all the time. It's something I do without thinking," Garcia says. "Obviously I was worried about if I, in fact, may be damaging myself."

Lipton says, "The positive message about what we found is that there is some amount of heading that seems to be generally safe."

But once players start exceeding 1,400 or 1,500 headings a year, it is a different story.

"What we're seeing is that more heading is associated with changes in the brain and brain function, which are characteristic with what we sometimes see with people with brain injuries," says Lipton.

Mild traumatic brain injuries can affect the memory, attention, the ability to make decisions and emotional regulation.

At this point, there is not enough information to definitively say whether it is dangerous for children to head the ball while playing soccer. Lipton hopes to eventually include children and teens in his studies.

"It may be that we need a certain amount of time of rest and recovery, something we'll learn during this study," says Lipton.

Lipton is now looking for about 500 participants for a larger study which is set to start this summer. Garcia hopes it will give footballers like herself conclusive safety standards.

"I think it's important for future generations and their parents to know if there's any potential damage that we can stop, by teaching them or training them in a different way," says Garcia.

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