Evidence for Acute Electrophysiological and Cognitive Changes Following Routine Soccer Heading



Di Virgilio TG, Hunter A, Wilson L, Stewart W, Goodall S, Howatson G, Donaldson DI & Ietswaart M (2016) Evidence for Acute Electrophysiological and Cognitive Changes Following Routine Soccer Heading. EBioMedicine, 13, pp. 66-71.

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±3 y) 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, 24 h, 48 h and 2 weeks 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 24 h 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.

Sports concussion; Transcranial magnetic stimulation; Sub-concussion; Traumatic brain injury

EBioMedicine: Volume 13

FundersEuropean Commission and National Institute for Health Research
Publication date30/11/2016
Publication date online23/10/2016
Date accepted by journal18/10/2016

People (4)


Dr Thomas Di Virgilio
Dr Thomas Di Virgilio

Lecturer, Sport

Professor Angus Hunter
Professor Angus Hunter

Honorary Professor, FHSS Management and Support

Dr Magdalena Ietswaart
Dr Magdalena Ietswaart

Senior Lecturer, Psychology

Professor Lindsay Wilson
Professor Lindsay Wilson

Emeritus Professor, Psychology