A new study has found that heading a football just 20 times could have a significant impact on an individual’s brain function, as discovered by research conducted at the Liverpool Hope University.
The results, that were published this week via the journal ‘Science and Medicine in Football’, presented how the memory declined by as much as 20 per cent in test subjects, with some displaying signs of suffering from concussion.
The test itself involved subjects heading a ball 20 times before having their cognitive functions analysed, which led to concerning results that calls into question the welfare of players who are continually tasked with heading a football throughout the 90 minutes of a match, in line with the demands of the game.
There were 30 subjects who partook in the test, all of whom were male football players, aged between 18 and 21 years old. The subjects were then split into three groups: one group headed the ball 20 times with a soft ball (8.8 psi), another with a hard ball (16.2 psi) and the last group with no ball at all.
From there, results were taken from tests including Saccadic eye speed, spatial span and digit span. Saccadic eye speed (the measure of how quickly an individual can locate and identify visual targets) decreased by roughly 10 per cent. This test result was of particular concern as in North American sports, this test is often used as an indicator of concussion. Spatial span (recalling objects in a space within a particular sequence) reduced by an average of 15 per cent and lastly, digit span (recalling certain numbers within a particular sequence) reduced by up to 20 per cent in the group who were heading the hardest football.
“Our results are both surprising and concerning,” started Jake Ashton, a postgraduate research student at the University.
“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.”
Concern continues to mount on the possible effects that heading a football is having on players, especially after the death of Nobby Stiles, who sadly passed away from dementia, which was shortly followed by the announcement that another Manchester United legend, Sir Bobby Charlton, had been diagnosed with the terrible syndrome.
Stiles’ family released a statement, urging the authorities to help the former players who are struggling right now, as well as finding ways to prevent the issue from happening in the future.
“There is a need for urgent action. These older players have largely been forgotten and many are in ill health, like dad,” the statement read.
“How can it be that these players are left needing help when their own union has tens of millions of pounds available today? How can it be that these players are struggling when the Premier League receives £3bn a year?
“The modern player will never need the help required by the older lads. How can it be right that some of the heroes of 1966 had to sell their medals to provide for the families? These older players are dying like my dad - many don't have medals to sell.
“It is right, of course to seek to identify the cause of dementia in older players but in truth the cause is irrelevant to the older players - whatever the cause, they need help now.
“I hope dad's death is the catalyst for this scandal to be addressed.”
Author: Jake Wilkin