Soccer Headers Cause More Brain Damage in Female Players


Repeatedly heading a soccer ball exacts a toll on an athlete’s brain. But this cost—measured by the volume of brain cells damaged—is five times greater for women than for men, new research suggests. The study provides a biological explanation for why women report more severe symptoms and longer recovery times than men following brain injuries in sports. Previously some researchers had dismissed female players’ complaints because there was little physiological evidence for the disparity, says Michael Lipton, a neuroscientist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and a co-author of the paper. Lipton’s team used magnetic resonance imaging to peer into the skulls of 98 adult amateur soccer players—half of them female and half male—who headed the ball with varying frequency during the prior year. For women, eight of the brain’s signal-carrying white matter regions showed structural deterioration, compared with just three such regions in men (damage increased with the number of reported headers). Furthermore, female athletes in the study suffered damage to an average of about 2,100 cubic millimeters of brain tissue, compared with an average of just 400 cubic millimeters in the male athletes.