Heading football may cause brain damage - US study

Heading the football

Heading the ball may increase the risk of brain damage to football players, new research has indicated.

The US study, which concentrated on schoolgirl footballers, revealed evidence of mental impairment cause by repeatedly heading the ball, with scientists saying the effects suggest "mild traumatic brain injury of the frontal lobes".

However, they stressed more research was required to determine whether the changes were permanent or temporary.

The study featured a group of 12 teenage female footballers and a matching group of non-players.

Both groups were given a computer screen response test designed to assess levels of mental alertness.

The participants had to react to the random appearance of a white square by touching a point on the opposite side of the

screen, with their performance measured by the speed of their response.

In order to assess the impact of heading, the girls who played football were, prior to taking the test, involved in a

practice session where they headed the ball a number of times.

Results showed the footballers were significantly slower at the task than the non-players.

However, both groups performed equally well in another task where they had to touch the white square where it appeared, with this test involving less thinking time and a more instinctive response.

Researchers said the more hours spent playing football led to slower responses and this was a greater factor than merely the number of playing years.

Concerns about sport and mental impairment have tended to centre around high contact events such as boxing, where

deliberate blows to the head can cause loss of consciousness and long term health problems.

However, previous studies into the effect of heading a football have been contradictory, with an Australian

researcher in 2004 saying it did cause brain damage after a 2003 editorial in the British Medical Journal reckoned such an

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