American Medical Society for Sports Medicine
Soccer Heading May Not Be as Impactful as Previously ThoughtSarah Weinstein, DO presented a research abstract describing the actual rate of heading in soccer players at various levels over multiple years at the 28th Annual Meeting of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine in Houston, TX.
Purposeful heading in soccer has drawn increasing attention over the past 10 years because of the possible negative effects of repetitive head impacts (or RHI) on the brains of youth and college athletes. But the data from Dr. Weinstein’s study, performed in collaboration with Dr. Thomas Kaminski and his research team at the University of Delaware, found that the number of intentional heading contacts is actually quite small.
“Our large and comprehensive analysis of soccer heading in collegiate and interscholastic players will do a great deal to inform the soccer world on the prevalence of soccer heading in these cohorts of players,” Dr. Weinstein said.
The study included 829 high school girls soccer players, along with 771 college-aged athletes, including both men’s and women’s athletes. Researchers counted the number of purposeful headers (a clear, pass or shot) for all players, as well as unintentional head impacts and total headers.
The data found that high school players headed the ball only 1.68 times per game. For women’s college players, they averaged 1.59 times per practice and 2.36 times per game. Meanwhile, men’s college players headed the ball 1.11 times per practice and 3.55 times per game. Passing headers accounted for the majority of the heading impacts.
This data suggests that exposure to headers in soccer is relatively low in both practices and in games, and the concern about repetitive impacts from heading is small. These findings may help frame a common health concern and inform the current policy debate about limiting age of intentional heading.
“Concern over repetitive head impacts (RHI) in contact/collision sports has garnered the attention of medical professionals and researchers in the last 10 years,” Dr. Weinstein said. “Most recently soccer has been targeted because it is a sport unique in the fact that the head can be used to strategically move the ball during play.
“The results of our study indicate that the low exposures to purposeful heading occurring during practices and games will lessen the potential for excessive cumulative effects from repeated exposure.”
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