Traumatic Brain Injury Expert Studies Soccer Players

A New York neuroradiologist is busy making headway in traumatic brain injury research. Yesterday, we told you that Dr. Michael Lipton with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine is studying Ohio veterans trying to cope with TBI symptoms. He also recently published results from a study of soccer players.

“Soccer players are repeatedly hitting their head [or, using the top of their head to redirect the ball], and we know that multiple head injuries tend to be worse than just one,” Lipton stated. “My area [of expertise] is mild traumatic brain injury, so I look at how much does it take (to have a lasting effect).”

To study those cumulative effects, Lipton asked 37 amateur soccer players, nearly three-quarters of whom were male, to approximate how often he or she headed a ball per year, so he could group them into three categories: low heading, medium heading, and high heading. He then scanned their brains with a special MRI test called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and tested the players’ memory skills.

Bearing in mind that participants’ age averaged 31 and that they’d played soccer for an average of 22 years and for about 10 months in the last year, Lipton determined that players who headed a ball about or more than 1,800 times per year scored lower on memory tests.


“Overall, the imaging showed that players who reported heading the ball more frequently had areas of the brain with lower FA [fractional anisotropy] values,” Fox News reported. Or, as Lipton stated, “The more heading people did, the more likely they were to have abnormalities of brain microstructure and worse cognitive performance.”

Given the small scale of this study, Lipton isn’t yet urging soccer moms to buy helmets for their children, but that may come. The National Institutes of Health has awarded him a $3 million grant to continue his research.

“I think that what people should take away from this at this point is that there may be risk involved in heading; that’s about all we can say … The biggest message here is we need to do the research and confirm what the risks are, and if they’re confirmed, develop ways to address them,” he said.

Below, Cleveland traumatic brain injury attorney Chris Mellino enumerates TBI symptoms and discusses the difference between a head injury and a brain injury.