Michael L. Lipton, MD, PhD, from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in Bronx, NY, and colleagues surveyed 37 amateur soccer players (mean age, 30.9 years; 75 percent men) regarding frequency of heading in the prior 12 months and lifetime concussions. Diffusion-tensor magnetic resonance imaging at 3.0 T was performed. A computerized battery of tests was used to assess cognitive function.
The researchers found that participants had headed a median of 432 times over the previous year. Lower fractional anisotropy (FA) at three locations in temporo-occipital white matter was associated with heading. The heading threshold varied according to location (885 to 1,550 headings per year; P < 0.00001). There was also a significant association between lower levels of FA and poorer memory scores, with a threshold of 1,800 headings per year. There were no significant associations with lifetime concussion history and demographic features with either FA or cognitive performance.
"Heading is associated with abnormal white matter microstructure and with poorer neurocognitive performance," the authors write.