Football Heading Alters Cognitive Function, Says New Study


Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine have recently discovered that soccer players have a worse cognitive function because of frequent ball heading, and not necessarily due to unintentional collisions. The study can be found in the Frontiers in Neurology, under the title “Heading Frequency is More Strongly Related to Cognitive Performance than Unintentional Head Impacts in Amateur Soccer Players.”

Lead author of the study is Michael Lipton, M.D., Ph.D., F.A.C.R., professor of radiology, of psychiatry and behavioral sciences (at Einstein College of Medicine) and medical director (at MRI Services, Montefiore). Michael Lipton stated the following:

“Unintentional head impacts are generally considered the most common cause of diagnosed concussions in soccer, so it’s understandable that current prevention efforts aim at minimizing those collisions.”

But what was not studied was the intentional head impacts when players use their head to kick the balls. Lipton argues that “heading appears to alter cognitive function as well, at least temporarily.”

Impairing Verbal Learning, Verbal and Working Memory, Attention and More

The study he led focuses on comparing the effects of unintentional head impacts (from collisions) with the effects of intentional ones (from soccer heading).

After researching data in questionnaires on 308 amateur soccer players from New York City, that have also been playing the last two weeks, researchers reached a conclusion. Their participants – 78% male, aged from 18-55 – also completed tests to see the verbal learning, verbal memory, psychomotor speed, attention and working memory.

The average of players headed soccer balls for 45 times in the last two weeks.

Researchers realized that the players that used their head more often to hit the ball had the lowest performance on psychomotor speed, and low results in attention tasks. These tests are used to find brain injury. The memory task was also affected.

Dr. Lipton said that they are “concerned that subtle, even transient reductions in neuropsychological function from heading could translate to microstructural changes in the brain that then lead to persistently impaired function. We need a much longer-term follow-up study of more soccer players to fully address this question.”

Dr. Lipton and his team recommend all soccer players to reduce the intentional hitting, as it is “a potential cause of brain injury, and since it’s under control of the player, its consequences can be prevented.”


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