Can heading a football really cause brain damage?

Football continues to attempt to make an inherently unsafe game more safe, and soccer may look to do the same to protect its players in the future.

The team identified CTE pathology in four of the six brains examined, and all six also had signs of Alzheimer's disease.

Last December the Professional Footballers' Association called on the authorities to consider banning children under the age of 10 from heading the ball, following research by the University of Stirling which found players suffered memory impairment after heading.

The study was published in Acta Neuropathologica on Wednesday. And, while the report did not look into the risks of heading the ball at underage level, the findings lay out in black and white the health risks involved for players involved in the game over a prolonged period. These factors will help us to unpick the answers to a complex and under researched issue.' 'Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of dementia and it's important to ensure that people playing any kind of sport are able to do safely'.

Researchers asked 19 footballers to head a ball 20 times as if they were heading from a powerful corner kick.

The findings, from a study of 14 former players, suggest a possible link between playing football and developing conditions such as dementia in later in life.

They had played football for an average of 26 years and all six went on to develop dementia in their 60s.

A potential cause of dementia thought to arise from blows to the head has, for the first time, been confirmed in a group of retired footballers following a small study.

Ms Astle said: "We know what happened to dad and the evidence is mounting and mounting".


These men had a far higher rate of CTE in their brains than the 12 per cent average in the general population, based on a previous study of 268 brains.

He said: "We do not yet know exactly what causes CTE in footballers or how significant the risk is".

"Further research is needed to shed light on how lifestyle factors such as playing sport may alter dementia risk, and how this sits in the context of the well-established benefits of being physically active". They were all diagnosed with dementia between 1980 and 2010.

Dr David Reynolds, of the charity Alzheimer's United Kingdom, said recreational football was unlikely to cause long-term problems and the benefits of exercise outweighed the risks.

The scientists acknowledged the size of the study was small, and appealed to people to remain open-minded when it comes to presenting themselves for research.

"However, we do not know if dementia is more common among retired footballers or if these footballers would have developed dementia anyway as they age without having played". But football is unique compared with boxing and American football in that blows to the head, as they are commonly more minor and less likely to cause significant neurological symptoms or loss of consciousness to football players.

The FA's Head of Medicine, Dr Charlotte Cowie, welcomed the researchers and cited the establishment of an Expert Concussion Panel in 2015 as evidence of the seriousness with which the FA viewed the issue.

The Alzheimer's Society, said that studies with much larger numbers of participants were needed, who a control group of footballers who do not have cognitive problems.

"To this end, we have recently agreed with the PFA (Professional Footballers' Association) to jointly fund the research project as we believe that a collaborative approach will strengthen the credibility and resource available to the project".

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