Medical study suggests possible link between soccer heading and brain disease

Medical study suggests possible link between soccer heading and brain disease


Medical study suggests possible link between soccer heading and brain disease


Sweat sprays off the head of Aaron Hughes as he goes for the ball with Jobi McAnuff of Reading

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Soccer might not be considered the most physical sport, but a recently-released study is suggesting that heading a soccer ball over a long period of time could lead to serious brain damage.

Researchers at Boston University discovered the first documented case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease, in a former soccer player, according to a piece in the New York Times. C.T.E. has been found in the brains of multiple former NFL and NHL players, and the disease is linked with repeated blows to the head, such as concussions or even the simple act of heading a ball.

Patrick Grange, who played for the University of New Mexico and University of Illinois-Chicago, passed away last April from A.L.S., otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, at the age of 29. On a four-point scale of severity of C.T.E, the researchers graded Grange’s brain at stage two.

Dr. Ann McKee, a neurologist at Boston University who performed a brain scan on Grange, said that she believes Grange’s repeated hits to the head helped the onset of A.L.S.

“We think the precipitating factor in his case was most likely the trauma,” McKee told the New York Times. “First of all, he was absurdly young when he developed this disease. And he had considerable evidence of this trauma-induced tauopathy, or C.T.E.”

McKee was also careful to point out that there is no definitive proof linking Grange’s disease to the heading of a soccer balls.

“We can’t say for certain that heading the ball caused his condition in this case,” McKee said. “But it is noteworthy that he was a frequent header of the ball, and he did develop this disease. I’m not sure we can take it any further than that.”

The ALS Association says that most people diagnosed with A.L.S. are between the ages of 40 and 70, with the median at age 55 (Lou Gehrig began showing signs of the disease at age 35). Grange was 27-years old when he was diagnosed.

The results are part of a documentary called ‘Head Games: The Global Concussion Crisis’, directed by Steve James. This documentary is a follow up to the 2012 documentary, Head Games.

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