There are more than 265 million soccer players both male and female in the world. Just in the United States there are 25 million players. Among all contact sports, soccer is the only one where purposely using your head to control or advance the ball is a strategy.
For many years studies have been conducted to learn the severity of a soccer ball repeatedly being hit with the head. One new study has found that female players are more sensitive to a soccer ball impact to the head than males.
It was found that amateur female soccer players who would frequently use their head to play the ball had more brain alterations to their white matter than males. You can think of white matter in the brain the same as a fiber optic cable that connects a computer, thread-like nerves with a protective covering.
The damaging of white matter is not the same as a concussion. White matter damage happens with repeated impacts to the head and with enough damage that can cause long-term problems. It has already been shown that female soccer players suffer more concussions than males at the high school level, so adding the white matter damage to female players is even more troubling.
Why are women more vulnerable to soccer head injuries?
There is no definitive reasoning on why female soccer players are showing greater damage to their brains than males. Some say that the female brain is more sensitive to the hits it is taking due to hormones. Typically, women have less body and muscle mass than men which can make them more vulnerable. Other reasons for the findings include neck strength and the fact that women are just better at reporting their injuries than men.
A continuing problem
In the U.S., players as young as 11 can start heading the ball. Damage to the white matter in the brain can take a long time before problems occur. Will some players suffer long-term brain injuries from excessive heading of a soccer ball before they graduate high school?
A proposed solution to head injuries in soccer is the use of headgear. There are some people concerned that if headgear was used in soccer, it would cause players to be more aggressive and lead to additional injuries.