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Playing soccer linked to brain injury but doubters persist

The same brain disease that's been linked to dementia and death among American football players is now linked to soccer players as well.

The brain condition is known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which can only be confirmed after death, was thought to be the result of multiple concussions over time. This new study may change that theory and broaden risk factors significantly.

Much of the current research and news has focused on former professional boxers, wrestlers, and football players. Living victims given a preliminary diagnosis often suffer from profound dementia even at a relatively young age. Conditions worsen with time as the brain erodes. All of those studied previously were players in sports where being on the receiving end of brutal blows to the head and concussions was just part of the game.

Soccer players, on the other hand, rarely end up with concussions. They do, however, frequently use their heads to hit the ball during games. The new study would seem to indicate that even low-impact blows, given enough repetition, can do the same kind of damage over time to players that a few high-impact blows can do to others.

However, officials from the Federation Internationale de Football Association, the governing body for soccer teams, insisted that the study was inconclusive and stated that soccer "does not belong to the high-risk sports for brain and head injuries."

The study was admittedly small, because of the need for players to actually die in order to contribute to the data. However, 6 out of 14 players who had dementia were confirmed to have signs of CTE. That's about 42 percent of those examined—which is far above the 12 percent that's found in the general population.

While FIFA may be resistant to the idea that soccer could become labelled a sport that puts players at high-risk of brain injuries, it has still stepped up efforts to reduce head injuries. Rule changes in 2014 introduced a head injury protocol and toughened penalties for elbow blows to the head among players.

This new study does suggest that anyone who has suffered head injuries, whether they've generally been "mild" or severe, should consider themselves at risk of brain damage. If you begin showing symptoms of brain damage, consider contacting an attorney for advice.

Source: VOAnews.com, "Soccer Players at Risk of Brain Injury, Study finds," Steve Baragona, Feb. 18, 2017

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