TUESDAY, Nov. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Soccer is an extremely popular team sport, and one of the few that doesn't require any protective head gear. But, a small study of professional soccer players from Germany suggests that even in players without evidence of a serious head injury, playing soccer may cause changes to certain areas of the brain.
"We used sophisticated MR imaging to investigate the white matter in the brains of professional soccer players who had no symptoms and no known concussions, and compared to a group of swimmers, we found white matter changes in the brain," said the study's lead author, Dr. Inga Koerte. She is a visiting senior research fellow at Harvard Medical School's psychiatry neuroimaging laboratory in Boston, and a senior research fellow at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, Germany.
"These changes have been found in other players in contact sports. They were subtle, but they were there. It's difficult to say if symptoms will develop in the future, but the changes are in regions of the brain that are important for things like memory and attention," she explained.
Results of the study are published as a research letter in the Nov. 14 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
More than 250 million children and adults play soccer, making it the most popular sport in the world, according to background information in the study. And, it's the only sport where the unprotected head is a primary point of contact with the ball.
The potential problems linked to traumatic brain injuries, such as concussions, are fairly well known. What isn't clear is if repeated blows to the head that don't result in obvious injuries can lead to brain damage.
To get an idea of whether or not playing soccer could lead to any changes in the brain, Koerte and her colleagues recruited 12 professional German soccer players who had be
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