It may be in a couple years, or it may be ten years from now. But headers will be eliminated from soccer in the future.
Because of studies like the one published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), which suggested that changes had occurred in the brains of professional soccer players who have never suffered a concussion, but routinely engaged in headers in practice and in games.
Specifically, the changes occurred in the white matter of their brains. According to Time Magazine, which wrote briefly about the study, white matter “is made up of nerves and their myelin protective coating (similar to the insulation that blankets electrical wire) that play a significant role in connecting brain regions and establishing neural networks that are critical to cognition.”
The study, led by Inga K. Koerte of Harvard Medical School in Boston, was the first to look at how repeated blows to the head, which aren’t a concussion by definition, impact the brain.
“In the study, the researchers compared brain scans of 12 male soccer players from German elite-level soccer clubs who had not experienced a concussion, to brain scans of 11 competitive swimmers who had similarly never experienced repetitive brain trauma,” according to Time. “The research team used high-resolution diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), which looks at the brain microscopically and is much more effective at catching white matter changes than the standard MRI.
“The researchers found surprising alterations in the white matter that were ‘consistent with findings observed in patients with mild TBI, and suggesting possible demyelination [nerve disorder].’ Even though the players had no concussions, their brains told a different story of damage, including changes to the myelin sheaths surrounding nerves.”
The implications for soccer are significant.