Study Suggests Heading Soccer Balls Increases Chances of Poor Cognitive Functioning



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Brooks Schuelke, Esq.
Schuelke Law PLLC

Austin, TX (Law Firm Newswire) June 18, 2018 –
Repeatedly heading soccer balls may have a much greater effect on cognitive abilities than previously thought. Soccer players are at greater risk of poor cognitive functioning due to routinely heading the ball during play.

A recent study, published in Frontiers in Neurology, conducted on 308 adult soccer players between the ages 18 to 55, demonstrated that players heading the ball frequently did not do well when tested for attention, psychomotor speed and memory.

According to the lead author of this study, Dr. Michael Lipton, of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of New York City, “The focus in terms of head injury in sports has really been on concussions and recognized symptomatic impacts to the head, typically due to players colliding with each other or falling down. And it’s probably misguided to be so tunnel-vision focused on concussion as the problem.”

Players participating in the study filled out a questionnaires about two-week periods of playing soccer and noted how many times they headed the ball versus had a fall, or collision involving a head impact with another player. The players were given several tests to address verbal, working memory, attention, verbal learning and psychomotor speed. During the course of the two-year study, participating players took the initial tests at least once.

The results revealed players headed soccer balls at least 45 times in each two-week period. Half of the male players headed the ball about 50 times and half of the female players headed it at least 26 times, or more. Both groups of players also had at least one head impact incident. The players that reported higher numbers of “headings” performed poorly on cognitive and functional tasks. However, the effect on memory was minimal.

According to Dr. Lipton, the most interesting conclusion of this study is that in a particular group of players, for those who headed the ball the most, there was “an adverse effect on cognitive function . . . explained only by heading, [and] that concussions and collisions do not in any way explain the effect on cognitive function.” It appears that repetitive headings have a cumulative effect over time as there does not seem to be an immediate injury.

The study shows that change in cognitive function does not cause obvious impairment, but the real concern is what may happen over the long-term? How much heading results in permanent effects? There is no definitive answer for that question yet. “However, it is interesting to note that there is a differentiation between concussions and “heading” and brings a new focus to contact sports from a legal point-of-view,” says Austin traumatic brain injury lawyer, Brooks Schuelke.

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