Youth: A Review Of Studies that Draw Conclusions About Soccer Header Safety

Jan 6, 2021

*This article is part of an educational series for soccer parents and players new to soccer*

Recent studies suggest that there may be a link between headers in soccer and concussions or Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs). Head injuries are a concern for athletes, coaches and parents of athletes who want to keep their young athletes safe. Soccer, often considered a non-risk sport, has recently been linked to concussions and traumatic brain injuries. 

Without drawing conclusions, this post will look at the most recent research around soccer header safety and summarize some of the most recent findings. It is meant to be a resource to help players, parents, and coaches learn more about the topic. We’ll also suggest potential ways to reduce the risk of head injuries in young soccer players.

Studies Examining Soccer Header Safety

Some studies seem to point to damaging long term effects of headers, while others show no greater head injury incidence for players who frequently use heading in games. To help sort out the information, we’ve summarized four recent studies examining brain injuries from headers in soccer. 

1) Soccer Heading and Subclinical Neuropsychiatric Symptomatology in Professional Soccer Players

This study, published in Neurology in July 2020, looked at players in the Israeli Premier League. They examined professional athletes with a high heading rate compared to players with low heading exposure. The study used questionnaires following games and compared the results with the number of headers for each player. The study found that players with high header rates did not have an increase in concussion symptoms. 

2) The UEFA Heading Study: Heading Incidence in Children’s and Youth’ Football (Soccer) in Eight European Countries

In a UEFA study published in April 2020 examining headers in children’s and youth soccer, researchers examined a cross-section of teams across European countries. They measured the incidence of heading during matches and the results of injuries across all leagues. 

The study found that most of the headers recorded did not have problematic characteristics, suggesting that most single intentional soccer headers used proper technique. The authors of the study also mentioned that there are relatively few studies looking at head injuries in children’s and youth soccer and that more research is needed to be conclusive. 

3) Concussion in Soccer: A Comprehensive Review of the Literature

Future Medicine published a literature review in 2020 around soccer concussions and found that most concussions were caused by collisions with another player or object rather than heading a ball. They note the dangers of head injury in soccer and call for more high-level research to detect and understand concussions. 

Other key findings in the review suggest that female soccer players experience a greater concussion rate than male soccer players. They also found that female soccer players have the highest concussion rates when compared to female athletes in other sports. 

4) Neurocognitive Performance and Mental Health of Retired Female Football Players Compared to Non-Contact Sport Athletes

This 2020 study examined the effects of soccer head injuries over the long term and compared the neurocognitive performance of retired elite female soccer players with non-contact sports athletes. They found that performance was similar except that female retired soccer players had significantly worse mental health depression scores and a higher prevalence of memory problems. 

How to Prevent Concussions

As you can see, more research is needed into the immediate effects and the long-term effects of soccer headers and how they relate to concussions in young soccer players. 

Education into the symptoms of head injury and the importance of removing players from play after a head injury is a good start in preventing them. 

Recent studies have also focused on the potential benefits of headgear. Again, while more research is required, studies show that protective gear such as the ExoShield Headguard may be able to reduce select head injury risk by as much as 84% (the data is prevalently focused on concussions and impact absorption, the effect on sub-concussive harm has yet to be studied). Take a look at our head guard page for more information and data on this important safety equipment.
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