Repeated Heading of a Football ‘Can Damage Brain’


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Frequently heading a football can lead to brain injury, warn doctors who say they have found proof on brain scans.

Imaging of 32 keen amateur players revealed patterns of damage similar to that seen in patients with concussion.

There appears to be a safe cut off level of 1,000 or fewer headers a year below which no harm will be done, but the US investigators say more work is needed to confirm this.

Heading is believed to have killed the English footballer Jeff Astle.

Astle, 59, who died in 2002, developed cognitive problems after years of playing for England and West Bromwich Albion.

The coroner ruled that his death resulted from a degenerative brain disease caused by heading heavy leather footballs.

Although the balls used to play soccer today are much lighter than those used in the 1960s when Astle was playing, they can still pack a punch, says lead researcher Dr Michael Lipton of Montefiore Medical Center, the university hospital for the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Footballs can travel at speeds as high as 34 miles per hour during recreational play and more than double that during professional play.


Whilst this research may well have been carried out by venerable professors in starched white coats one has to wonder what the point of such a study is. Clearly almost every daily activity, be it a hobby or work related, can lead to some sort of health issue or another.

One would imagine that playing Rugby for instance could well be proven to affect one’s health, the constant physical battle of the game, the cabbage ears etc… will no doubt have an affect on your physical health. Every sport known to man would surely pose a possible health risk.

Asking people to header less than 1000 times a year is also incredibly unhelpful advice. Should a Sunday League footballer have some sort of heading calculator so as to be aware when he is nearing the ‘danger level’. Without wanting to be too ‘Daily Mail’ about it, should we expect schools to know issue ‘non-heading’ directives to kids in playgrounds? Possibly some sort of heading surveyor who can measure those most likely to be in danger?

What this study does not take into account are the physical benefits of the exercise one’s body gets from playing the game, which surely far outweighs the possible damage to the brain one may sustain from heading the ball.

Also where do you draw the line? It seems entirely possible that kicking the ball x amount of times is almost certainly causing some sort of damage to ones feet, but how does one deal with that ‘problem’. It is after all called ‘football’.

Without wanting to make light of the serious affects of this issue it does seem that perhaps the problem was far more of an issue in the days of leather balls, which became like dead-weights when wet, but clearly this is far less of an issue in the modern era.

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