Study of Elite UK Soccer Players Finds No Significant Structural Damage Or Neuropsychological Changes From Heading During First 5 Years Of Pro Career
A new study reports no significant neurological, structural brain imaging or neuropsychological change among a sample of young elite professional soccer players in the United Kingdom over the first 5 years of their professional career. (1)
The study, reported in the journal Brain Injury, is believed by the authors to be the first longitudinal prospective study to track a group of soccer players and controls over time.
Researchers, led by Steven Kemp of the Department of Clinical and Health Psychology at St. James’ Hospital in Leeds, England, recruited thirty-two elite young professional footballers and thirty-three controls, 24 and 17 of whom were identified at follow-up, respectively. Medical examination, MRI (brain) imaging and detailed neuropsychological data were collected on the players and controls at baseline and 5-year follow-up.
All participants had normal neurological examination at both time points. At baseline, 37% of the soccer players had sustained minor neurological insults. Between baseline and 5 years, 66% of the soccer players had sustained minor neurological insults. No MRI (brain) abnormalities were identified among the players at either time point. The soccer players scored 6 points lower than the controls on IQ tests. Test–re-test analysis on a range of carefully selected neurocognitive tests revealed a picture of good stability in cognitive functioning over the 5-year period.
Despite the study’s findings, the consequences of neurological insults sustained during soccer in the form of multiple concussions and heading remains unclear.
Kemp S, Duff A, Hampson N. The neurological, neuroimaging and neuropsychological effects of playing professional football: Results of the UK five-year follow-up study. Brain Injury 2016; 30(9): 1068-1074 (e-published May 16, 2016).