Children at risk of brain damage from heading footballs

19 February 2017

Heading a football may cause brain damage in children, researchers warn.

In a study set to be unveiled this week, British scientists who looked into the autopsies of six returned professional sportsman with dementia discovered the disease was one associated with contact to the head.

Evidence of a progressive degenerative disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), mostly seen in people who box, was also found.

These findings come after research conducted by University of Stirling in 2016, which saw 19 footballers head a football 20 times; mimicking the move they’d do if receiving a corner kick.

Their brain function was monitored with a memory test before and after, with performance reduced between a concerning 41 and 67 per cent after the headers.

Although memory went back to normal within 24 hours, repeated heading could lead to long term damage. Players who headed the ball a lot were three times more at risk of suffering from symptoms of concussion, such as headaches and confusion, than those who didn't. More worryingly, if the player hits the ball with their head again while concussed, more serious damage can be caused.

As children’s brains are still developing it is vital that they avoid such a move to protect themselves, as well as their necks as the muscle is still strengthening and is less able to take the force of the ball’s impact.

“If there is mild concussion, a player might not realise it. If they then suffer another blow in quick succession, it could lead to brain injury,” Dr. Nicholas Davies, a consultant neurologist at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Spire Parkway Hospital in Birmingham, said.

“A header is like a punch to the head,” added Dr. Tom Crisp, a consultant in sport and exercise medicine at the London Independent Hospital.

The United States Soccer Federation has already issues a ban on children aged ten and under heading footballs and earlier this month former Wales striker Iwan Roberts urged the Football Association of Wales (FAW) to issue the same rule.

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