A new study has revealed that footballers exposed to the everyday impact of heading a ball causes “significant” changes in brain function.
The study, by the University of Stirling, tested 19 footballers who headed a ball 20 times. The ball was launched from a machine that emulated the power of a ball kicked from a corner, testing participants’ brain function before and immediately after the exercise, as well as 24 hours, 48 hours and two weeks after.
Increased inhibition in the brain was detected after just a single session of heading. Memory test performance was also reduced between 41 and 67 per cent, with effects normalising within 24 hours.
Cognitive neuroscientist Dr Magdalena Ietswaart said: “In light of growing concern about the effects of contact sport on brain health, we wanted to see if our brain reacts instantly to heading a football. Using a drill most amateur and professional teams would be familiar with, we found there was in fact increased inhibition in the brain immediately after heading and that performance on memory tests was reduced significantly.
“Although the changes were temporary, we believe they are significant to brain health, particularly if they happen over and over again as they do in football heading. With large numbers of people around the world participating in this sport, it is important that they are aware of what is happening inside the brain and the lasting effect this may have.”
One would hope that sports bodies and institutions such as schools will learn from the findings of this study, given the head injury a seemingly harmless header could cause.
Campaigning to this effect is Dawn Astle, daughter of football legend, Jeff Astle, who set up the Jeff Astle Foundation to raise awareness of the effects of heading the ball.
Former England and West Brom striker Jeff Astle died in 2002 at the age of 59, suffering from early on-set dementia which a coroner found was caused by heading footballs and gave the cause of death as “industrial disease”.
Further examination of Astle’s brain revealed the neuro-degenerative brain disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a disease that can only be diagnosed after death and often found in deceased boxers, rugby players and NFL players.
Ms Astle, told The Mail on Sunday: “Would I be surprised if damaging effects of heading are found? No. The question is: what are they going to do about it? What are the authorities going to do to protect our children?
This study raises awareness of the long term damage that repeated impact to the head and brain can cause.
“These people are paid an awful lot of money to protect players and children playing football at any level. If they find damage is caused by heading the ball — which we as a family believed even before the coroner found dad's brain was damaged in the same way as a boxer's — then what are the long-term implications?”
This study raises awareness of the long term damage that repeated impact to the head and brain can cause. Sport is an important of part of education and necessary to maintain a healthy lifestyle as well as being a social activity. Football in particular is a popular hobby enjoyed by many people of all ages.
The risks of repeated head impacts described above may not be as obvious or anticipated as they would be in other sports. Therefore, it is important to further understand the issues with research so that the necessary education and safety measures can be considered to reduce and improve any long terms risks.
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