senior heading soccer ball
Concussions and other common head injuries

Soccer Ball Heading May Cause Concussion Symptoms

Frequent soccer ball heading is a common and under recognized cause of concussion symptoms, according to a study of amateur players led by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, NY, and published online February 1st 2017 in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

A release from the college notes that the findings run counter to earlier soccer studies suggesting concussion injuries mainly result from inadvertent head impacts, such as collisions with other players or a goalpost.

The release quotes study leader Michael L. Lipton, M.D., Ph.D., professor of radiology and of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Einstein and director of MRI Services at Montefiore, as saying, “The prevailing wisdom is that routine heading in soccer is innocuous and we need only worry about players when they have unintentional head collisions. But our study suggests that you don’t need an overt collision to warrant this type of concern. Many players who head the ball frequently are experiencing classic concussion symptoms such as headache, confusion, and dizziness during games and practice, even though they are not actually diagnosed with concussion. Concussion sufferers should avoid additional collisions or head impacts during the following days or weeks, when their risk of incurring a second concussion is extremely high. Because these injuries go unrecognized and unmanaged, there may be important clinical consequences for the short and long term.”

Studies clearly show that single or repeated concussion causes neurologic problems. But little is known about the effects of frequent but lesser impacts, such as those experienced while heading a soccer ball. Some research, notably a recent study of adolescent players published in JAMA Pediatrics, suggest that heading is not a common cause of concussion. “However, these studies did not actually measure heading, and thus they were unable to separate the relative contributions of intentional and unintentional head impacts,” says Dr. Lipton.

In the current study, a part of the Einstein Soccer Study, Dr. Lipton and his colleagues asked 222 adult amateur soccer players (80 percent men, ages 18 to 55) to fill out online questionnaires on their soccer-related activities during the previous two weeks, including details about heading and other unintentional head impacts and any resulting headaches, pain and dizziness as well as more severe symptoms, such as feeling dazed, needing medical attention, and becoming unconscious. Some of the 222 players filled out questionnaires for more than a single two-week span, resulting in a total of 470 questionnaires during a nine-month period in 2013-2014.