Heading footballs may cause short-term brain changes

“Heading a football can significantly affect a player’s brain function and memory for 24 hours, a study has found,” BBC News reports.

The news is based on a small experimental study involving 19 amateur footballers. The players were asked to head a football 20 times. Memory tests and sensitive tests of their brain-muscle pathways were completed before and after the test.

Immediately after heading the ball the tests showed the time taken for communications between the brain and muscles had increased by about five milliseconds. They also scored slightly worse on a memory test. There was no lasting effect on any test by 24 hours and up to two weeks later.

The significance of these findings is hard to judge. None of the players actually suffered from concussion, this was a small sample, and testing of a single session of headers.

Longer term study in a much larger sample of football players is needed to see if these observations have any meaning in terms of the person’s long-term health and function.

The benefits of playing regular football as a form of physical activity may outweigh any risks of heading the ball. But seeing that the sport is played by millions of people, further research would seem warranted.