Is Heading a Soccer Ball Injurious to Brain Function?

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Abstract

With the growing popularity of soccer both in the United States and worldwide, reports of adverse effects of “heading” on brain function are a source of concern. This article reviews the related research literature on neurologic and neuropsychological findings. Neurologic and neuropsychological abnormalities have been reported in a significant minority of older former professional players in Norway. Purportedly unrelated to age, the most prominent findings were cerebral atrophy and impairment on intelligence test abilities that are particularly vulnerable to brain damage. Also noteworthy in these retired players were persistent physical, cognitive, and emotional complaints consistent with a postconcussive syndrome. Younger amateur players appear to be free of major abnormalities, although some report persistent difficulties with memory and concentration. The severity of these complaints may be related to a history of soccer-related head Injuries and not necessarily specific to heading. Research findings specific to heading are not more than suggestive at best, and clarification of the risks of heading a soccer ball awaits more definitive studies.

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