Headers instantly alter brain function, study finds Science and technology news


One study has found that a short session of headers instantly changes brain function and the way the brain communicates with the surrounding muscles.

Participants who headed 20 soccer balls in a row did not improve their performance on a cognitive task with practice, while a control group who performed headers in virtual reality did.

According to a study by scientists at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Institute of Sport, it suggests that headings impair the ability to improve performance on the task.

Participants directing real soccer balls also displayed a pattern of brain activity during a hand grip task that may indicate the brain was working harder to control their movements compared to participants directing virtual soccer balls.

The effects of repetitive header movements and exposure to concussions are under scrutiny after the 2019 FIELD study found footballers were three and a half times more likely to die from neurodegenerative diseases than members of the general population.

Further data released from the study in 2021 showed that a goalkeeper’s risk was no different from the general population, while a fielder’s risk was four times higher and a defender’s risk five times higher.

The Football Association is currently trialling a header ban in under-12 football and has issued guidelines discouraging practice headers for the same age groups, as well as header restrictions for older age groups in youth football and restrictions on headers in training for the grassroots and elite game for adults.

The Manchester Metropolitan University study, published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, used 60 participants who were divided into two equal groups, one guiding real footballs and the other wearing VR headsets.

The group that directed the soccer balls self-reported a range of symptoms commonly associated with post-exercise concussion.

Continue reading:
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Activists with brain injuries ‘bitterly disappointed’ as Premier League trial of temporary concussion substitutes rejected

dr Johnny Parr, Lecturer in Sport Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University Institute of Sport, said: “Our findings show that headball clearly produces some immediate changes in brain function and brain-muscle communication.

“But at this point it is still unclear what this altered activity represents.

“For example, the headline might require participants to work harder or make greater cognitive efforts to compensate for some deficit in the brain’s ability to process information.

“Or it could be that the altered activity reflects the need to treat the concussion symptoms people are experiencing as a result of the headline protocol.”

“It’s also possible that some of our findings could be explained by additional physiological changes that we didn’t measure — and that’s something we’re continuing to explore.”

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