Nightly News   |  March 02, 2013

Experts use apps to test for soccer concussions

Researchers in Texas are using tablets to study high school female soccer players who are trained to head the ball. NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports.

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>>> we're back with health news tonight. in a new study that used a mobile app to measure what happens to the brain when high school soccer players head the ball. the question is, are they doing damage to themselves? nbc's chief medical editor dr. nancy snyderman has our report.

>> reporter: it seems there is an app for just about everything these days. and science is leading the trend. even when it comes to monitoring brain function in young athletes. researchers in texas are using tablets to study high school female soccer players who are trained to head the ball.

>> we wanted to try to develop a an app on tablet to measure functions in soccer players.

>> reporter: a study published this week zeroed in on 24 high school girls . half play varsity soccer and were tested after practice. the other half, nonathletes. the girls completed two tests by touching targets on a screen to measure reaction time . the first involved a part of the brain that controls reflexes. the second task, cognitive function like memory, learning, and the ability to process information.

>> the soccer players showed a significant slowing -- small but significant slowing on the cognitive task.

>> reporter: the one small study, this slowing may indicate heading in soccer is in fact hurting the brain. though heading doesn't usually cause concussion it doesn't mean it's safe either. for decades the standard tests for concussions in sports have been a series of questions and simple motor tasks. but with this tool, more sophisticated tests can better detect the immediate effect of a blow to the head.

>> it allows us to capture brain function , as well as other things like symptoms, how much heading someone was doing, close to the time that it's occurring.

>> reporter: experts say this real time monitoring of heading is crucial.

>> the greatest area of concern presently is that there is an elevated, long-term risk for incidents of dementia or development of degenerative brain diseases over the long term.

>> reporter: but for these young athletes from new york, headers are just part of the game .

>> i think it hurts like half the time but you get over it after like two minutes.

>> i just get so much out of playing soccer that, like, a little of that wouldn't stop me.

>> reporter: doctors are working to make sure this love of the game doesn't interfere with the long and healthy life. dr. nancy snyderman , nbc news, new york.