Soccer Ball Heading Causes Cognitive Dysfunction

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Scientists strike a link between frequent ball heading of soccer players and cognitive dysfunction, according to a new article published on April 28, 2018.

Scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine examined that worse cognitive function in soccer players stems mainly from frequent ball heading rather than unintentional head impacts due to collisions.

“Unintentional head impacts are generally considered the most common cause of diagnosed concussions in soccer, so it’s understandable that current prevention efforts aim at minimizing those collisions. But intentional head impacts — that is, soccer ball heading — are not benign. We showed in a previous study that frequent heading is an underappreciated cause of concussion symptoms. And now we’ve found that heading appears to alter cognitive function as well, at least temporarily.” said, Michael Lipton, lead author of the study.

The study involved a survey from 308 amateur soccer players in New York City, who detailed their recent soccer activity, including heading and unintentional head impacts. Each participant aged from 18-55 years, 78 percent being male, were made to complete neuropsychological tests of verbal learning, verbal memory, psychomotor speed, attention, and working memory.

Players reported that on an average, they headed soccer balls 45 times during the two weeks covered by the questionnaire. Around one-third of the players suffered at least one unintentional head impact. They observed that players who reported the most headings experienced the poorest performance on psychomotor speed and attention tasks, which are areas of functioning known to be affected by brain injury.

“However, we’re concerned that subtle, even transient reductions in neuropsychological function from heading could translate to microstructural changes in the brain that then lead to persistently impaired function. We need a much longer-term follow-up study of more soccer players to fully address this question,” said Dr. Lipton.

The team thus concluded that soccer players should consider reducing heading during practice and soccer games, as it has the potential to cause brain injury.

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