“Unintentional head impacts are generally considered the most common cause of diagnosed concussions in soccer, so it’s understandable that current prevention efforts aim at minimizing those collisions,” said study leader, Michael Lipton, M.D., Ph.D., F.A.C.R., professor of radiology and of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Einstein and medical director of MRI Services at Montefiore. “But intentional head impacts — that is, soccer ball heading — are not benign. We showed in a previous study that frequent heading is an underappreciated cause of concussion symptoms. And now we’ve found that heading appears to alter cognitive function as well, at least temporarily.”
While heading has previously been associated with transient cognitive problems, the Einstein study is the first to compare the cognitive effects of heading to unintentional head impacts such as collisions. Three hundred and eight amateur soccer players in New York City filled out questionnaires detailing their recent (previous two weeks) soccer activity, including heading and unintentional head impacts. Participants also completed neuropsychological tests of verbal learning, verbal memory, psychomotor speed, attention and working memory. The players ranged in age from 18 to 55, and 78 percent were male.