Heading in football – Is it harmful?

Football is the world's most popular sport, with more than 265 million players worldwide. In football, unprotected heading of the ball is an integral part of the game. Despite recent research having suggested that this might have a negative impact on brain health, we still know very little of its long- and short-term effects.

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Formal title

Repetitive subconcussive head impacts – Brain alterations and clinical consequences

Formal

(1) To detect brain alterations as a consequence of heading in football
(2) to evaluate methods for quantifying head-impact exposure
(3) to describe the magnitude of head-impact exposure in youth football.

Description

Study 1: In January 2018 the prospective cohortstudy REPIMPACT was launched. Here, youth football players (14 to 16 yrs) are followed for one year and compared to a group of non-contact sport athletes (e.g. swimmers, cyclists etc.). The participants are tested with multiple examinations – including MRI of the head and neuropsychological tests – before and after a competitive season, in addition to a follow-up examination after 12 months. This will provide valuable insight into brain maturation in adolescence, and enable us to evaluate if repetitive head impacts (i.e. heading) have a negative impact on brain health.

Study 2: Quantifying head impact exposure in football is challenging, and using wearable sensor systems (e.g. accelerometers) is both unreliable and resource demanding. We are therefore evaluating the validity of a novel in-ear sensor for such purposes, both in a controlled laboratory setting and in regular on-field conditions.

Study 3: Very little information exists on the incidence of headers and head impacts in youth football. We are therefore conducting a study to answer this by counting headers during a youth football tournament (Norway Cup), evaluating the effects of age and sex on head impact exposure.

Study 4: As a follow-up to the study "Minor Head Trauma in Soccer and Serum Levels of S100B" from OSTRC, published in 2008, we are re-analyzing blood tests to evaluate whether new biomarkers have the potential for clinical usage when evaluating repetitive head impacts and traumatic brain injury.