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Cody Mansfield's picture

Can Heading A Soccer Ball Cause Brain Damage?

Soccer is one of the only sports to require a player to apply a force to a ball with their head. This has inspired a great amount of research within the scientific community to determine if there are any long-term effects that occur to the brain specifically due to heading a soccer ball, such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy seen in boxers and football players. Soccer athletes experience concussions from heading when the ball strikes the athlete’s head unexpectedly, or when heading an exceptionally hard ball from a goalkeeper punt or goal kick. After reviewing the latest research on the effects heading a soccer ball can have on the brain I have concluded that purposeful heading of a soccer ball presents little to no risk of injury. Researchers have still not been able to prove a relationship between heading a soccer ball and long-term changes to the brain as a result.

Precautions to take when heading a soccer ball

1) Use appropriate size ball

2) Make sure ball is not overinflated

3) Have good postural and neck strength

4) Implement proper heading mechanics

5) Stay focused on the game

6) Only use headgear to prevent head to head or head to goal post mechanisms of injury

7) If you experience a headache, nausea, disorientation, or visual problems after heading a ball see your certified athletic trainer immediately.

In a study from the American Journal of Sports Medicine, Boden et al found that there were no instances of US collegiate athletes that experienced a concussion from purposefully heading of a soccer ball, but concussion did result when athletes were struck unexpectedly with a high-velocity ball.

Concussions are often caused by an acceleration of the head. When heading a soccer ball it is important to activate your neck muscles to prevent any unnecessary movement of the head due to impact of the ball, and prevent a concussion. This is why headgear is unable to prevent concussions from heading a soccer ball. Your neck musculature prevents the acceleration of your head when an object strikes it. Rigorous testing has been done on headgear equipment and it has been proven that headgear is unable to significantly prevent acceleration of the head when compared to athletes who do not wear headgear. However, headgear has been proven to be effective at preventing injury in head to head collisions.

The American Youth Organization (AYSO) recommends that athletes under 10 years old do not head soccer balls. Although AYSO has made this a rule without research it is important to discourage heading a soccer ball as a youth athlete. This is because children have a smaller head mass and are more susceptible to higher levels of linear and angular acceleration of the head when the ball is headed. Also, youth athletes are less likely to implement proper heading mechanics, which could lead to a concussion. Concussions in youth athletes are very serious because they are still developing physiologically. This is one reason why medical professionals are always more conservative in concussion management with youth athletes than adult athletes, and could be a reason to postpone heading in youth soccer athletes.

Even though there is more research needed to establish any long-term brain changes due to heading, one thing is clear, if you get hit in the head with a soccer ball hard enough you can experience a concussion. The best way to prevent this is to always head the ball with proper technique, head the ball with authority, and have good postural and neck control. Moreover, it is important to talk to a medical professional if you feel concussed after heading a ball.


[1] Boden B, Kirkendall D, Garrett W. Concussion incidence in elite college soccer
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[1] Lees A, Nolan L. The biomechanics of soccer: a review. J Sports Sci. 1998;16(3):
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cognitive dysfunction? J Athl Training. 2001;36(3):328-333.
[1] Shewchenko N, Withnall C, Keown M, Gittens R, Dvorak J. Heading in football.
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