The burgeoning popularity of youth soccer in the United States has occurred with little discussion of the safety of soccer for young people. Several studies however, have suggested that repeated head blows that occur during soccer play may be associated with cognitive effects and neurologic sequelae. In this study, we employed newer imaging techniques to examine brain changes in younger soccer players. We hypothesized that soccer players would demonstrate evidence of neurologic injury consistent with multiple frontal head blows.
High-resolution T1-weighted magnetic resonance imaging scans were obtained from groups of college-level soccer players and nonplaying controls. Gray-matter density and volume were compared across groups, using voxel-based morphometry.
Scans were performed in the Center for Imaging Research of the University of Cincinnati.
Participants were recruited from the local community and were screened for psychiatric and medical illnesses as well as contraindications to magnetic resonance imaging participation.
Main Outcome Measurements:
Differences in gray-matter density and volume.
Soccer players showed decreased gray-matter density and volume in portions of the anterior temporal cortex bilaterally (BA 38).
Our findings suggest the presence of neurologic sequelae of soccer play, even in college-level players. Although more study is necessary, these findings suggest that further safety equipment may be warranted, particularly for younger players.