New, unpublished research, presented in November at the annual Society for Neuroscience conference in Washington, D.C., suggests female soccer players experience greater brain damage from heading the ball than men do. The injury occurs in white matter tracts — the long, branch-like nerve fibers, or axons, that extend from neurons, crisscross the brain and connect different regions.
Spotting the Differences
The research team scanned the brains of nearly 100 men and women, all amateur soccer players in their 20s and 30s. The male and female participants were matched for age and how often they’d headed a ball in the last year. So for example, if the researchers used the brain scan of a 25-year-old female player who’d headed maybe 500 times over the last year, they also included one from a 25-year-old male player who’d completed the same number of passes with his cranium.