Friday, February 28, 2020

Heading In Football Damages Nerve Cells In The Brain?

If your child is playing football (or soccer), please be aware that too much heading may be detrimental. This news headline caught my eye as my boys go to football training on most Tuesdays.

The British Football Association has just recommended a few days ago that children 11 and under in England, Scotland and Northern Island will not be allowed to head soccer balls training. Limits for older children will also be put in place.They will however be able to head the ball in matches/ games.

The new guidelines came about after a study found that ex professional football players in Scotland were 3.5 times more likely to die from degenerative brain diseases (e.g. Alzheimer's) and 5 times more likely to die from Parkinson's disease when compared to members of the public.

This ban on heading is already put in place in America  by the United States Soccer Federation back in 2017 for children 10 and under. They also limited heading for children aged 11 to 13 to not more than 30 minutes a week.

Although there is still no strong evidence to suggest that heading the ball is to blame, these new guidelines will be introduced to lessen any potential risks ensuring that football remains as safe as possible.

A single header or two is unlikely to cause any significant damage, but repeated headers over an extended period may lead to problems.

There needs to be much more research to understand fully all factors that can contribute to the increased risk of degenerative brain disease in footballers. Until then it is wise to reduce exposure to the current recognized risk.


Mackay DF, Russell ER et al (2019). Neurodegenerative Disease Mortality Among Former Professional Soccer Players. NEJM. 381: 1801-1808. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1908483.

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