Athletes appear to be doing damage to their brain when heading a soccer ball.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows repetitive heading over the course of a soccer career was linked to cognitive impairment.
To come to their conclusion, researchers studied hundreds of retired male soccer players over the age of 45 from the United Kingdom.
They underwent numerous tests to determine their verbal fluency and memory skills. They were also asked to estimate the frequency they headed the ball in a match or training session.
The study notes that the more an athlete headed the ball, the higher the risk of cognitive impairment. For instance, players who haded the ball 15 times per match or training session were at three times higher risk of experiencing cognitive impairment than those who headed the ball five times or less over that same time period.
Additionally, no players who headed the ball 0-5 times per match or training session had self-reported dementia or Alzheimer's disease diagnoses. That compares to 2% with an dementia or Alzheimer's diagnosis for respondents who said they headed the ball 6 to 15 times per match and 5% who headed the ball exceeding 15 times.
Furthermore, the researchers learned that player's position on the field could also impact the frequency of heading, ultimately increasing their risk for cognitive impairment. Defenders tended to head the ball most, followed by forwards, midfielders and goalkeepers.
The study notes that further research is required to determine how often a player can head the ball without being at risk of cognitive impairment later in life.
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