The People's Perspective on Medicine

Is Heading a Soccer Ball Bad for Your Brain?

Heading a soccer ball may score a goal, but players who practice this frequently are at risk for symptoms of a concussion.
Young football player on stadium kicking ball

Heading a soccer ball too often could be bad for the brain. Neurologists have suspected this for some time. Now a study confirms the harmful effects.

Heading a Soccer Ball:

Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine queried 222 amateur soccer players between the ages of 18 and 55. Over the course of two weeks, subjects reported an average of 40.5 soccer ball headings.

What Were the Results?

Roughly one-fifth of the players experienced symptoms of concussion that were categorized as moderate to quite severe. Some of the neurological complications could be attributed to unintentional head impacts such as a collision with another player.

But the researchers noted that symptoms of concussion were independently linked to heading the ball. Players who headed the ball more frequently appeared to be more vulnerable to concussions.

The results of the new study, published in the journal Neurology, were consistent with prior research. In the investigation, neurologists found structural changes in the brains of players who had headed the soccer ball over 1000 times a year. Coaches and players may need to recognize that concussions after heading are more frequent than most people would imagine.

Neurology, online Feb. 1, 2017

You can learn more about concussions resulting from soccer and other sports in our Show 1011: Sports and Concussions. We explored the consequences of a severe concussion in Show 1012: What to Do About a Ghost in Your Brain.

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    About the Author
    Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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    I have played soccer since I was 10, and headed the ball a million times “CORRECTLY.” My Husband played and coached professional soccer and headed a billion times. Neither of us ever suffered a concussion and are thriving older adults. Both coached the sport for years. Him at the Div One College level.

    Now, if you do not know proper technique and take a header incorrectly there is absolutely danger in that. We see this happen on the field frequently. Not allowing heading until an older age is setting up for more concussions. Teach the players to head the ball properly while the ball is small, and the shots are softer. Then when they are older, and stronger balls are in the air they will know how to do it correctly and not be injured. If you want to know about long term outcomes do a study of all the players who are now adults. See if you find the long-term outcomes like you do in football or boxing. Then tell us there are longterm problems from heading the ball.

    I agree with the previous comment. Really? We needed a study to tell us that hitting your head , without a helmet, might have lasting effects? The saddest part with all the concussion information out there, is that there are still parents putting their kids at risk, in the hopes of a scholarship for a child that stands little to no chance of making a living at that sport. Schools need to put as much of there focus an energy on science and math as they do in sports programs. That is what will pay the bills when their kids grow into adulthood.

    It’s troublesome that soccer seems to now be the sport of choice for our young kids. While there has been much rejection of the heading injury concerns by soccer leagues basic science tells you that anything impacting the head will have these same forces applied to the brain which can’t be good and especially with young children. This is an old subject that has been discussed for years but little progress is being made to resolve this issue.

    Really?? They had to do a study at Albert Einstein College of medicine to come up with this ? As a grandparent, I winced every time my grandsons headed the ball while growing up. Maybe they should do a study whether getting hit in the head while boxing might give one concussions.

    Or, perhaps getting hit on the head with a baseball bat can make one see stars.

    I’m all for research… but let’s spend the money on something we don’t know about.

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