Injuries from Heading Soccer Balls

The Radiological Society of America reported that repeated heading of soccer balls could lead to brain injury.  Researchers found that players who headed the balls with high frequency had abnormalities in their brains which were similar to abnormalities seen in persons with traumatic brain injury.  These injuries can lead to loss of memory, behavior issues, and trouble concentrating.

“Heading a soccer ball is not an impact of a magnitude that will lacerate nerve fibers in the brain,” said Michael L. Lipton, M.D., Ph.D., associate director of the Gruss Magnetic Resonance Research Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and medical director of MRI services at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. “But repetitive heading could set off a cascade of responses that can lead to degeneration of brain cells.”

For medical professionals, we need to inform our patients of these findings and allow them to make decisions.  My biggest concern would be in younger populations.  We have a lot of 8-12 year old kids playing soccer and running drills.  In light of these study results, I take issue with heading drills at practice.  If heading is part of the game, then have some low volume heading practices, but excessive drills can lead to the degenerative changes described above.

The study also illustrated that the damage was greater with higher frequency heading.  The brain does have some capacity to heal.  So limiting the exposure is a good idea, especially in youth.

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One aspect that was not studied, but ought to be, is the damage to the cervical spine.  Heading a soccer ball creates a significant shock to the muscles and joints of the neck.  We know from excellent research that whiplash injuries occur even at low speed collisions.  Certainly, the forces to the fledgeling necks of young soccer players can approximate that of low impact auto collisions.

If your young soccer player is complaining of headaches or neck pain, please bring them into the office for an expert evaluation.  Our chiropractic physician will examine the joints and nerve structures and determine the best course of treatment to reduce the injury and promote fast healing.

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