FA study reveals health risk associated with repeated heading of balls

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A study commissioned by England’s Football Association (FA) has discovered evidence indicating that repeated heading of balls during a professional football career is linked to a greater likelihood of cognitive impairment in older age. 

The University of Nottingham conducted the independent research study, which was jointly commissioned by the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) and involved interviews with more than 450 retired professional footballers aged 45 and above.

“The former professional footballers who took part in the study were asked to recall how many times they headed the ball per typical match and per typical training session; 0-5, 6-15 and over 15 times,” it said.

“… those who recalled that they typically headed the ball 6-15 times in a match were found to be 2.71 times more likely to score below the test threshold in the cognitive status assessment than … (footballers) who typically headed the ball 0-5 times.”

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The study found that former players who headed the ball more than 15 times in a match had an increased likelihood of scoring below the test threshold. However, the researchers acknowledged that there were limitations to their methodology and that more research was needed. 

The initial results of the study, which were released in June, showed that former footballers were 3.46 times more likely to have neurodegenerative diseases. In April, the number of individuals joining a class-action lawsuit against the governing bodies of football and rugby due to neurological impairments increased to 380.

The athletes claim that the organizations in charge of the sport did not adequately safeguard them from both concussions and other injuries, which resulted in various disorders such as early onset dementia, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and motor neurone disease. 

The Football Association (FA) has been taking steps to reduce potential health risks and dementia, and recently approved a trial to ban intentional heading in matches for players under the age of 12.

“This study is another step in understanding any potential link between neurodegenerative disorders and former professional footballers,” FA Chief Executive Mark Bullingham said.

“… As we work to gain a greater understanding of the medical research, we will continue to take a leading role as the governing body in reviewing the safety of our game and addressing potential risk factors which may be associated with football.”

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