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Heading ball 20 times could impact brain function, new study suggests

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eading a football just 20 times could be enough to cause a detrimental effect on brain function, according to a new study.  

New research led by Liverpool Hope University took a group of test subjects and analysed “cognitive function” – including memory and mental ability – before and immediately after they headed a football twenty times.  

And those results, published this week in the journal Science and Medicine in Football, showed how “working memory” declined by as much as 20 per cent. The vast majority of test subjects also displayed signs of concussion.

Jake Ashton, a postgraduate research student at Hope, said: “Our results are both surprising and concerning.  

“We investigated the immediate effect heading a football has on cognitive function.  

“Participants performed a series of cognitive function tests before and after a bout of 20 headers.  

“They also performed a pitch-side screening for concussion, which showed that 80 per cent of the participants showed potential signs of concussion.  

“With the cognitive tests, there was a significant reduction in verbal and spatial working memory.”

The study itself involved a group of 30 recreational male soccer players aged between 18 and 21 years old.  

They were split into three groups that performed 20 consecutive headers with either a soft (8.8 psi) ball, hard ball (16.2 psi), or no ball at all.  

Overall, when Saccadic eye speed was measured – i.e., how quickly you can locate and identify visual targets – function decreased by around 10 per cent.  

Spatial span – the recall of objects in space within a particular sequence – reduced by an average of 15 per cent.  

Meanwhile digit span – the recall of certain numbers within a particular sequence – tailed-off by 20 per cent in the group heading the hard football.  

The debate over heading in football – and the impact it can cause on the brain – has become a source of debate recently, with World Cup winner Sir Geoff Hurst leading calls for it to be banned among young children.


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