Heading in soccer—could it lead to brain injury?

No clear link to chronic traumatic encephalopathy so far, but research continues.

By WOLTERS KLUWER HEALTH: LIPPINCOTT WILLIAMS & WI
January 13, 2012 17:52
2 minute read.
OMER GOLAN’S Maccabi Petah Tikva and Maccabi TA.

Soccer photo 311. (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)

 
X

Dear Reader,
As you can imagine, more people are reading The Jerusalem Post than ever before. Nevertheless, traditional business models are no longer sustainable and high-quality publications, like ours, are being forced to look for new ways to keep going. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall. We want to keep our journalism open and accessible and be able to keep providing you with news and analyses from the frontlines of Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World.

As one of our loyal readers, we ask you to be our partner.

For $5 a month you will receive access to the following:

  • A user experience almost completely free of ads
  • Access to our Premium Section
  • Content from the award-winning Jerusalem Report and our monthly magazine to learn Hebrew - Ivrit
  • A brand new ePaper featuring the daily newspaper as it appears in print in Israel

Help us grow and continue telling Israel’s story to the world.

Thank you,

Ronit Hasin-Hochman, CEO, Jerusalem Post Group
Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief

UPGRADE YOUR JPOST EXPERIENCE FOR 5$ PER MONTH Show me later Don't show it again

Philadelphia, Pa. – Could heading the ball in soccer lead to degenerative brain disease, like that seen in athletes in other sports? That's the question addressed by a review in the January issue of Neurosurgery. The official journal of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons

As yet there's not clear evidence to link heading to short- or long-term brain injury, according to Dr Alejandro M. Spiotta of the Cleveland Clinic and colleagues. However, while research is ongoing, they stress the need for proper heading technique at all levels of organized soccer.

Be the first to know - Join our Facebook page.


New review of evidence on heading and brain injury risk in soccer
Soccer (called football outside the United States) is the only sport in which players use their unprotected heads to intentionally deflect, stop, or redirect the ball. Headed balls travel at high velocity both before and after impact, raising concerns about possible traumatic injury.

In 2002, English footballer Jeffrey Astle, known as a "formidable header," died with degenerative brain disease. The damage was consistent with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE): a progressive neurodegenerative disease caused by repeated brain injury, seen in American football players and other athletes. Those reports have prompted concerns about similar risks in soccer players.

Although concussions are common in soccer, they more often result from the head striking another player or the goalpost, rather than heading the ball. But there's still concern about long-term injury related to repetitive trauma from heading.

Detailed biomechanical studies have been performed, showing that heading is a complex task in which significant energy is absorbed by the head. Emphasizing the importance of proper heading technique, studies have shown that anticipation and "pre-tensing" of the neck muscles play a key role in absorbing and redirecting the impact of a headed ball.

Emphasis on proper heading technique
Older studies reported symptoms related to heading ("footballers' migraine"), but more recent research has not confirmed those effects. One factor may be the introduction of newer soccer balls that don't absorb moisture—unlike the leather balls used in Jeffrey Astle's day.



Soft headgear has been suggested to protect against soccer-related head injuries, although studies have questioned the protective benefits. There are even concerns that wearing headgear might even lead to increased injury risk, if players develop a false sense of security.

For now, the data on heading and brain injury "leave us somewhat in the grey zone," according to Dr Spiotta and colleagues. While it's reassuring that there's no clear link to CTE, the potential for long-term brain injury remains. "Even if the cognitive impairment were to be mild, it would still present a major medical and public health concern because of the massive volume of soccer players worldwide," the researchers write. "Any possible detrimental effect…may only become clinically evident decades in the future."

Dr Spiotta and coauthors emphasize the need for further research—including autopsy studies of players in the "light ball" era—to see if there is any similarity to the patterns of brain injury seen in CTE. Meanwhile, "Proper heading technique should continue to be stressed at all levels of play." The authors also highlight the importance of using an age-appropriate ball size for younger soccer players, as they develop the neck strength and posture control needed for proper heading technique.

This article was first published at www.newswise.com

Related Content

Lab
August 31, 2014
Weizmann scientists bring nature back to artificially selected lab mice

By JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH