Research Reports - Evidence for acute electrophysiological and cognitive changes following routine soccer heading

EBioMedicine. 2016 Nov;13:66-71. doi: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2016.10.029. Epub 2016 Oct
23.

Di Virgilio TG(1), Hunter A(1), Wilson L(2), Stewart W(3), Goodall S(4), Howatson
G(5), Donaldson DI(2), Ietswaart M(6).

INTRODUCTION: There is growing concern around the effects of concussion and
sub-concussive impacts in sport. Routine game-play in soccer involves intentional
and repeated head impacts through ball heading. Although heading is frequently
cited as a risk to brain health, little data exist regarding the consequences of
this activity. This study aims to assess the immediate outcomes of routine
football heading using direct and sensitive measures of brain function.
METHODS: Nineteen amateur football players (5 females; age 22±3y) headed
machine-projected soccer balls at standardized speeds, modelling routine soccer
practice. The primary outcome measure of corticomotor inhibition measured using
transcranial magnetic stimulation, was assessed prior to heading and repeated
immediately, 24h, 48h and 2weeks post-heading. Secondary outcome measures were
cortical excitability, postural control, and cognitive function.
RESULTS: Immediately following heading an increase in corticomotor inhibition was
detected; further to these electrophysiological alterations, measurable reduction
memory function were also found. These acute changes appear transient, with
values normalizing 24h post-heading.
DISCUSSION: Sub-concussive head impacts routine in soccer heading are associated
with immediate, measurable electrophysiological and cognitive impairments.
Although these changes in brain function were transient, these effects may signal
direct consequences of routine soccer heading on (long-term) brain health which
requires further study. 

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