Soccer is one of the most popular organised sports in Canada. We rank 9th in the world for registered athletes and according to FIFA 1 in 39 Canadians is enrolled in the sport at some level making it more popular ere than in Italy. It’s the number one sport played by children 5-14. Over 42% of kids that age play soccer. In fact, although we think hockey is the most popular sport in Canada, the most practices sports in kids are soccer (42%), swimming (24%) and then Hockey (22%).
With these ever-increasing participation rates the medical community is also assessing and reassessing known risks of the sport of soccer. Girls make up almost half of registered soccer players in the early years, and the number of females moving up in the ranks of soccer increases every year. In a sport that focusses on moving the ball without the use of hands, feet and heads are the tools.
New research from The Radiological Society of North America published a paper “MRI-defined White Matter Microstructural Alteration Associated with Soccer Heading Is More Extensive in Women than Men", which concludes that heading the ball can cause detectable impact on the brain and the impact is greater on the female brain than on the male brain. Women who play soccer may be at a higher risk than males to abnormalities of the brain’s white matter. The damage is similar to the damage seen during TBI. They also concluded that the cumulative impact of heading over a year long period is associated with cognitive dysfunction. There were also visible structural changes to the brain’s white matter.
The research paper concluded that “with similar exposure to heading, women exhibit more widespread evidence of microstructural white matter alteration than do men, suggesting preliminary support for a biologic divergence of brain response to repetitive trauma”.
The importance of establishing good assessment, treatment and return to paly protocols in sport has never been greater.