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Headers 'May Cause Footballers Brain Damage'
Heading the ball may cause damage to football players' brains, according to fresh research.
The study shows evidence of mental impairment caused by repeatedly bouncing a football off the head.
Scientists say the effects suggest "mild traumatic brain injury of the frontal lobes".
They point out that more research is needed to determine whether the changes are long-lasting or temporary. But the findings indicate that increasing amounts of playing time worsen performance.
The US study involved a group of 12 teenage girl players and a matched group of non-players. Each carried out a simple computer screen task designed to test subtle levels of mental functioning.
Participants had to react to the random appearance of a white square by touching a point on the opposite side of the screen. Performance was measured by timing the speed of the responses.
Before the test, girls who played football were given a practice session during which they headed the ball a number of times.
The study showed that the football players were significantly slower at the task than non-players.
However, both groups performed equally well in another task that involved touching the white square where it appeared. This test involved a more instinctive response with less thinking required.
Factoring in the the number of hours spent playing football each week showed that more games and practice sessions led to slower responses.
Dr Anne Sereno, from the University of Texas, and colleagues wrote in the online journal Public Library of Science ONE: "These findings suggest that even subconcussive blows in soccer can result in cognitive function changes that are consistent with mild traumatic brain injury of the frontal lobes."
"To our knowledge, these results provide the first evidence that even subconcussive blows in soccer could lead to measurable, even if possibly transient, cognitive changes in young soccer players."
It is not the first time headers have been linked to brain injury among footballers.
A coroner ruled that the death of 59-year-old former England and West Bromwich Albion player Jeff Astle in 2002 was the result of a degenerative brain disease caused by heading heavy leather footballs.