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Does Heading a Soccer Ball Cause Brain Damage?
November 29, 2016

Scientific American posed a very interesting question in an article several years ago. They asked Robert Cantu, a professor of neurosurgery at Boston University School of Medicine the following question: Does heading a soccer ball cause brain damage?

Cantu answered with, “Researchers who’ve followed soccer players have seen a close relationship between the amount of heading that a player does and brain abnormalities. There’ve also been studies where researchers compared soccer players to swimmers, and swimmers’ brains look perfectly normal while the soccer players’ brains had abnormalities in their white matter fiber tracts.”

Cantu also recommended that the cutoff for heading a ball should be at the age of 14. Impact to the head under this age can be particularly damaging. Cantu states, “The brains of youngsters are not as myelinated as adult brains. Myelin is the coating of the neuron fibers—kind of like coating on a telephone wire. It helps transmission of signals and it also gives neurons much greater strength, so young brains are more vulnerable. Youngsters also have disproportionately big heads. By the age of five, their heads are about 90 percent of their adult circumference, but the neck has not nearly developed to that point. They have big heads on very weak necks and that bobblehead-doll effect means you don’t have to impact the head as hard to cause damage.”

Though this article seems to state clearly that young children under the age of 14 should not participate in heading a soccer ball, there is not enough evidence to ban heading completely. Cantu says, “The point of this research isn’t to reduce participation in soccer. The point is to have more people play soccer, but have them play it in a safer manner at the youth level. This doesn’t mean that youngsters can’t be taught these skills. Instead of heading a soccer ball, they should practice heading with a beach ball.”


To read more of this article: Does Heading a Soccer Ball Cause Brain Damage?

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