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New study links heading footballs with brain injuries

New research carried out by the University of Stirling has identified ‘significant’ changes to the function of the brain following routine heading practice.

The study is the first of its kind to identify direct changes after football players are exposed to routine, everyday head impacts, rather than more serious impacts that can lead to concussion and other clinical brain injuries.

The findings come following concerns that football players’ brains are damaged due to repeated heading of the ball.

The former West Brom striker Jeff Astle died at the age of 59 in 2002 and suffered from early onset dementia, which the coroner attributed to a career of heading footballs. The cause of death was subsequently given as industrial disease.

Following a re-examination of Astle’s brain it was found he was suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Due to the nature of the condition, CTE can only be diagnosed after the death of the patient, and has been found in the brains of deceased American footballers, rugby players and boxers.

A separate study by University College London, which involved post-mortem examinations on the brains of five professional footballers and one amateur who had played for 26 years, found evidence of CTE in all of them. All six of the subjects also suffered from dementia.

While it may not be surprising that a link between brain injuries and repeatedly heading a football have been found, it does raise the question of what can be done to limit the risks and particularly protect children.

As a contact sport, football comes with certain level of risk which is to be expected. However, where an inherent injury risk has been identified a sorts body has a duty of care to take necessary measures to reduce the risk. If they fail to do so then they could be held liable for any injuries suffered by players if it is shown that the injury occurred due to the governing bodies failure to take action.

In the case of football, the governing body is the Football Association (FA) – and campaigners are already calling on them to focus more on the dangers of heading the ball. The European football governing body (UEFA) have recently promised to carry out their own research looking into how many times children head the football during training sessions.

In the States there has been significant measures taken by the NFL following the recent campaigning about CTE in American football players, including more investment into developing safer and more effective helmets for players as well as extra funding for neuroscience research.

This action came after the NFL had to pay out $1 billion in brain injury compensation following a class action lawsuit pursued by former American football players and their families.

Sports-related injury claims can sometimes be difficult to pursue. However if you have been injured during a contact sport as a result of another party’s negligence and you believe that their conduct has breached the standard expected of players you may be able to make a claim.