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Episode 35: Heading In English Soccer - New Guidelines

Recognition of the hidden dangers in heading a soccer ball continues to grow.

European football, known in the United States as soccer and U.S. Football are both concussion delivery systems.

A study by the University of Glasgow in 2019 found former footballers were three and a half times more likely to die of neurodegenerative diseases and a study published in the American Medical Association Neurology Journal last week reported men who played professional soccer were nearly four times more likely to develop a neurodegenerative disorder, including a motor neuron disease such as ALS, commonly called Loue Gehrig’s disease.

The risk was greatest in players with longer careers.

Soccer players are exposed to repetitive head trauma while passing the ball, which is known as heading the ball. Even sub concussive blows to the head which do not rise to the level of a concussion pose dangers to soccer players.

This week the English Premier League, and other professional football leagues in England advised players during training they should a maximum of 10 ‘higher-force’ header’s in training per week. The recommendation forms part of the new heading guidance across all levels of the professional and amateur soccer in England from next season.

High force headers were defined as heading the ball following a long pass (more than 35m) or from crosses, corners and free-kicks.  Further guidance suggested clubs limit the number of headers carried out when a player takes three or more steps and runs on to the ball, or dives to meet it.

I’m not convinced why the distance, or amount of force, or the position of the player matters since using your head to pass a soccer ball is not safe for anyone at any impact.  The rotational forces within the brain are not dependent on the speed or the force used so this recommendation is both puzzling and fails to send a clear message about the dangers of heading a soccer ball.

Once again soccer leagues have missed a crucial opportunity to protect the health and safety of players, prevent, preventable brain damage and send a clear message to anyone including children playing soccer.

The recommendations are just recommendations with no penalties if they are not enforced.  Ten hits are a purely arbitrary number with no scientific basis.

The distinction between practice and competition makes no sense.

Th recommendations fail to consider the distinction between male and female players and limits for children.  Neck size and biological differences in gender and age are all important considerations have not been considered. The physical characteristics of children and the growth and development of the brain also were not considered.

It is often said the devil is in the details, and there is a good deal of participation by Satan in this recommendation.

What we need are clear bans on heading the ball in youth, amateur and professional soccer in both training and in competition.

Audio version

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Brain Injury Insider

michael kaplen
Brain Injury Insider is a weekly video update by The Brain Injury Law Firm ®. We cover the latest news and developments in traumatic brain injury, concussion, and brain injury law.