Does heading in football cause dementia?

A look into whether heading should be removed from football amid health concerns.

Ethan Todd
10th March 2022
Pixabay - geralt
Within the last year, the topic surrounding the safety of heading in football has been heavily debated as to whether it should be reduced or even eradicated altogether from the sport, amid consequential health concerns for footballers about the risk of brain injuries such as dementia.

In a study from 2021 conducted by researchers at the University of Glasgow (led by Professor Willie Stewart and published by the journal JAMA Neurology) via Sky Sports, ‘based on the health records of around 8,000 former professional footballers in Scotland… [Outfield players] were almost four times as likely as an ordinary member of the public, with defenders developing dementia in later life roughly five times more often than the public at large.’

As a result of this study last year, professional clubs were issued with new guidelines regarding the limitation of heading in training, limiting the level of ‘high force’ headers, being that from corners, crosses or free kicks to 10 per training week.

I think that banning heading from football altogether would be a radical and extremely detrimental to the game we love

Personally, I think that banning heading from football altogether would be a radical and extremely detrimental to the game we love, creating a severely lesser enjoyable viewing experience of football.

No headed goals or defending with heading would drastically hamper the way in which the beautiful game is played, and has been for generations, bringing in the contentious debate as to whether the enjoyment of supporters trumps the safety of the players.

Unfortunately, such is the nature of the sport, every time footballers step out onto the turf there is a risk of injury, whether that be a head injury, broken leg or torn muscle; heading is just as threatening for the players as tackling is.

Regarding the specific context of dementia, in the UK it ‘is estimated that over 850,000 people suffer with it, mainly affecting the elderly and as well as this, at the age of 65 the likelihood of developing dementia roughly doubles every five years.’

Despite the early indications of this study, more research must be carried out over an extended period of time, that would further supporting the idea that heading causes higher risk of dementia as there is no definitive evidence that heading a ball does cause dementia, before banning headers altogether from the sport; which would evidently impact the enjoyment of the viewing and playing experience.

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AUTHOR: Ethan Todd
Aspiring football journalist studying at Newcastle University.

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