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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.
Is Heading a Soccer Ball Bad for Your Brain?
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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