Recent research has found that soccer players who frequently “head” the ball while passing or trying to score could be risking memory loss and impaired thinking ability, but experts say there are ways to perform the move more safely.

Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York recently completed a study in which they used MRI to take images of the brains of 37 amateur adult soccer players who had played the sport since childhood.

They found that players who said they frequently headed the ball had abnormalities in their brains that resembled those found in patients with concussion or mild traumatic brain injuries.

Players who estimated they headed the ball between about 900 to 1,500 times a year had significantly lower scores on tests that assessed the health of their brains. As well, players who headed the ball more than 1,800 times per year were more likely to demonstrate poorer memory scores compared to players with fewer headers each year.

The researchers say their study, which appears in the journal Radiology, provides strong evidence that brain changes resembling mild traumatic brain injury are associated with frequently heading a soccer ball.

Seventeen-year-old Grace Caldbick knows all about the risks of heading. Caldbick plays competitive soccer with the Nepean Hotspurs and likes heading the ball so much, her teammates call her "head of steel.”

But recently, she discovered the hazards of using her head to stop a ball that’s going several kilometres an hour.

"I was in a tournament in Oshawa and it was the third game of the day, and I guess I had taken one too many headers,” she says.

"Usually, I don't feel dizzy after I take them. But I could barely stand or run. And I had a tough time talking too,” she says.

Grace was diagnosed with a concussion and has been told that not only can she not play soccer for a while, she can't even attend school.

"No TV, no computer. Texting, I can do sometimes and reading maybe 20 minutes at a time and mild activity,” she says of her restrictions. “So walking, that's all I can do right now.”

Jimmy Zito, a coach with the Ottawa Fury football club, says there is a proper way to head a ball.

"You want to take the ball just above the eyebrows, just under the hairline,” he explains. “You want to keep your eyes open; you want to keep your teeth together.

“To avoid concussion, their eyes are open so they watch the ball come off their forehead so it won’t change direction and maybe hit them in the nose or the top of the head and maybe cause an injury so you don't get a concussion."

The ThinkFirst Foundation of Canada, which educates children and parents about the prevention of brain injuries, recommends not permitting heading in soccer at least age 10.

With a report from CTV Ottawa’s Natalie Pierosara