Heading The Ball | Denise Godfrey, Physio


Is it a bad idea to do headers?

Well if you head the ball like I do with the top of your head then it can make your neck sore!

More importantly Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (BRAIN DAMAGE) has been found to occur in soccer players that frequently head the ball. It is More common with players that have weak neck muscles, in women and if dehydrated. The trauma is caused by the brain moving at speed against the skull and becoming bruised . When a player heads the ball it can be travelling at up to 130k per hour causing a force of 100 to 150 x gravity.

In the US in 2015 Youth soccer advised that Kids under 10 should not head the ball at all.As they have larger heads relative to body and much weaker neck muscles they are more susceptible to concussion.

Studies on kids

A recent study tested kids cognitive scores before and 10 mins after playing soccer. Those that had headed the ball even if only once in the game had small drops in memory and processing. The drops were small and not tested to see if cumulative if they continued to head the ball. However still concerning.

Possibly teaching with a beach ball that is much lighter than a soccer ball would help teach correct technique without the danger.

Studies on adults

In one study where players headed the ball on average 50 times in 2 weeks players had some cognitive and memory short term abnormalities.

Post-mortem examination of 4 out of 6 retired soccer players that had been diagnosed with Dementia revealed not only signs of Alzeimers dementia but also of chronic traumatic encephalopathy .Their cognitive function had declined in their middle age and was thought to have lessened their life expectancy.

Did you know that in a year the average number of headers for elite and regular soccer players is 487 in men and 469 in women.

The most important things to do to protect from injury are:

  1. Learn the correct technique. Use your whole body to generate the force.

  2. Keep your eyes open! its easier to direct the shot then and make sure you have correct forehead contact with the ball.

  3. Make sure you have full range of motion in your neck. A stiff neck may reach that end of range position when you head the ball and therefore give you a stretch pain.

  4. Strengthen your neck muscles! Like any other joint in the body our neck joints are protected by muscles. We need the muscles to be working well just to hold good posture. If you want to do something far more forceful then just holding your head up on your neck like hitting your head hard against a moving ball, then you can imagine that greater strength and control is required.We have deep neck muscles that are more important for stability like our core muscles in our back. Then the more superficial muscles that are important for movement and force.It is important to strengthen both of these.

  5. Reduce the number of headers.

How can our physios at Belrose Physio help?

Denise is an expert at:

  • Assessing your range of movement in your neck and upper back.If required she can mobilise relevant joints, release over active muscles and ease any pain.

Denise will:

  • Teach you a progression of strengthening exercises that might include some of the ones below.

  • Check your strength and control through your core and legs as heading involves the whole body, then teach you exercises to correct any deficiencies.

For strengthening the neck extensors:

Lie over the edge of bed as shown and tuck chin down towards chest. Then slowly lift head raising from base of neck, keeping face parallel with the floor. Do not tilt chin up. Repeat 10 times

For neck flexor strengthening:

Lie on back. Very gently tuck chin in towards chest feeling a small tension around throat hold for 10 secs and repeat 10 times. Progression: Keeping chin slightly tucked lift head just off towel. maintain for 10 seconds. Repeat 5 times.