Archive for November, 2011

Heading Soccer Balls May Lead to Brain Damage

Repeatedly heading a soccer ball, even just a few times a day, may lead to brain damage.

That’s the result of a new study presented today by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and Montefiore Medical Center at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago.

The New York researchers used an advanced MRI-based imaging technique to scan the brains of 38 amateur soccer players, average age 30, who had all played soccer since they were kids.

The researchers compared the images to the number of times the players had headed the ball during the past year.

They found that players who headed the ball frequently showed brain injury similar to that seen in patients with concussion, also known as mild traumatic brain injury, or TBI.

The threshold for “significant injury” seemed to be in those players who exceeded 1,000 to 1,500 headers a year.

“While heading a ball 1,000 or 1,500 times a year may seem high to those who don’t participate in the sport, it only amounts to a few times a day for a regular player,” said lead author Michael Lipton, MD, PhD, associate director of Einstein’s Gruss Magnetic Resonance Research Center and medical director of MRI services at Montefiore.

“Heading a soccer ball is not an impact of a magnitude that will lacerate nerve fibers in the brain.

But repetitive heading may set off a cascade of responses that can lead to degeneration of brain cells.”

In a related study, researchers found that players who headed a ball most frequently performed worse on tests of verbal memory and psychomotor speed, a measure of hand-eye coordination.

“These two studies present compelling evidence that brain injury and cognitive impairment can result from heading a soccer ball with high frequency,” Dr. Lipton said.

With increasing awareness of the dangers of concussions in youth football and hockey, more soccer research may lead to the establishment of heading guidelines, similar to the pitch count limitations now in effect for youth baseball players.

“We, including the agencies that supervise and encourage soccer play, need to do the further research to precisely define the impact of excessive heading on children and adults in order to develop parameters within which soccer play will be safe over the long term,” said Dr. Lipton.

Tai Chi Comedy Moments

In my continuing personal study of Tai Chi and meditation, I recently thought of a line from one of my favorite comedy groups of the 1970s, Firesign Theater:

“How can you be in 2 places at once when you’re not anywhere at all?”

This month’s Yang-Sheng (Nurturing Life), a monthly E-magazine for all Qigong, Tai Chi, Yoga, Reiki, mindfulness and meditation practitioners, spiritual cultivators, and health seekers, contains some funny jokes in a special Comedy Moment.

Here are a few “good ones” (I’ve edited out the real groaners):

Two men meet on the street.

One asks the other: “Hi, how are you?”

The other replies: “I’m fine, thanks.”

“And how’s your son? Is he still unemployed?”

“Yes, he is. But he is meditating now.”

“Meditating? What’s that?”

“I don’t know. But it’s better than sitting around and doing nothing!”

Q: What happens when a Buddhist becomes totally absorbed with the computer he is working with?

A: He enters Nerdvana.


No matter where you go, there you are.

What if the Hokey Pokey really is what it’s all about?

Can we ever truly know when our philosophy assignment is due?

What happens if you get scared half to death twice?

If reality wants to get in touch, it knows where I am.

If there were no hypothetical questions what would this say?

Tai Chi: One of the Best Exercises for Balance

Tai Chi may be one of the better exercises you can do to maintain balance and prevent falls, based on systematic reviews.

“The diverse, multiple active ingredients inherent in Tai Chi allow you to compensate for deficiencies in the physiological and cognitive components that underlie balance loss,” says Peter Wayne, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Director of Research, Osher Center for Integrative Medicine Division of Preventive Medicine Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

Keeping your balance is a complex task, involving the co-ordination between muscles and sensors that detect balance and are part of the nervous system.

In older people many factors, such as reduced muscle strength, stiff joints, delayed reaction times, and changes in the sensory system, all add up to a reduced ability to maintain balance.

A new Cochrane Review indicates that regular exercise helps older people improve their balance and reduces their risk of falling.

The new review included 94 studies that involved a total of nearly 10,000 participants.

The following types of exercise are the most effective, according to the review:

* exercise that targeted a person’s walking, balance, and co-ordination

* strengthening exercises

* 3-dimensional exercises, including Tai Chi, dance, and yoga

* general physical activity such as walking or cycling

* computerized balance training that uses visual feedback

* exercise involving vibrating platforms

In general, the effective programs ran 3 times a week for a duration of 3 months and involved exercises that challenged people’s balance while they were standing.

Dr. Wayne explains how Tai Chi helps balance:

* It’s a weight-bearing exercise.

* It sensitizes sensory systems.

* It helps coordinate neuromuscular patterns.

* It reduces the fear of falling, which is one of the biggest predictor of falls.

Warm-up Exercises Reduce Sports Injuries in Teenage Athletes

Special neuromuscular warm-up exercises done before soccer and basketball practices can help teenage female athletes reduce their number of leg injuries.

Almost 1 million teenage girls play high school soccer and basketball each year.

But an estimated 1 out of 3 sustains a soccer- or basketball-related sports injury.

Knee injuries are the most common cause of permanent disability in female high school basketball players, accounting for up to 91% of season-ending injuries and 94% of injuries requiring surgery, according to researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago.

They invited 258 coaches from Chicago Public Schools to participate in a study to see whether a specialized warm-up program could reduce lower extremity injuries.

Overall, 90 coaches and 1,492 athletes, predominantly from low-income, urban populations, participated in the study, which was reported in the November issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Coaches in the intervention group attended a 2-hour training session 2 weeks prior to the start of the 2006-2007 season.

After learning how to implement a 20-minute neuromuscular warm-up before team practices and a shorter pregame version, the coaches in the intervention group used the prescribed warm-up before an average of 80% of practices.

The control coaches stuck to their standard warm-up protocol, including no warm-up exercises and having athletes jog or warm up on their own.

The results show that athletes in the intervention group had about half as many lower extremity injuries (50) as those in the control group (96).

And those in the neuromuscular warm-up group had a 34% decrease in non-contact ankle sprains as compared to the control group.

The neuromuscular training program combined progressive strengthening with plyometric, balance, and agility exercises.

Coaches instructed the female athletes on how to land softly, without excessive side-to-side movement and with flexed hips and knees.

One outstanding question is whether coaches will continue to implement this warm-up consistently for several seasons, or whether retraining will be needed.

I’ve got a personal interest since my 14-year-old daughter Sarah just finished her first season as a starter on the varsity soccer team, and began basketball practice yesterday.

I plan to send the school’s athletic director the results of this study and a PDF of a similar type of training program that has been shown to enhance performance and prevent injuries.

More Evidence Tai Chi Eases Low Back Pain

A growing body of evidence suggests that Tai Chi may be effective for easing pain and improving the quality of life of those with persistent low back pain.

Despite the widespread use of Tai Chi for back pain, surprisingly few Western studies have evaluated Tai Chi for back pain.

Now the results of the first larger-scale clinical trial studying the effect of Tai Chi for persistent low back pain have just been published in the November issue of the journal Arthritis Care & Research.

An Australian team led by Dr. Amanda Hall randomly assigned 160 adults between age 18 and 70 to either 10 weeks of Tai Chi training based on a simplified form, called “Tai Chi for Back Pain” developed by Dr. Paul Lam, or to a control group.

The results showed that Tai Chi significantly improved bothersome back pain symptoms (1.7 points on a 0-10 scale), which was the study’s primary outcome.

The participants also said they experienced less pain-related disability and felt their health-related quality of life had improved.

They also said they felt better in general for having done Tai Chi.

The researchers’ conclusion: Tai Chi is safe and effective for those experiencing long-term low back pain symptoms.

In a small, unpublished pilot study, Harvard researchers Peter Wayne, PhD, and Gloria Yeh, MD, anonymously surveyed 144 Tai Chi practitioners, average age 53, two-thirds of them women, at Boston area Tai Chi schools.

More than half said they have used Tai Chi for back or neck pain, and nearly all reported Tai Chi was “helpful” or “very helpful.”

“The gentle movements of Tai Chi might help begin to gently stretch and strengthen tissues and improve local circulation in the back,” says Wayne, who is Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Director of Research, Osher Center for Integrative Medicine Division of Preventive Medicine Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

“Because Tai Chi is done slowly and mindfully, it is less likely to cause more trauma to injured regions of the back.

The reduction in what is often unconscious pain can lead to more efficient gait and posture, putting less biomechanical strain on tissues, including connective tissues.

Mindful breathing might help you sense and even massage regions of the lower back, and the meditative, stress-reducing aspects of Tai Chi might improve your anxiety, mood, and sleep pattern.”

The bottom line: If you have chronic low back pain, the many components of Tai Chi may just help relieve your pain.