Webbe, who has studied the effects of heading since the early 1990s, recently published two studies with different collaborators. Both studies researched the effects of frequent headings over time, while one focused further on the short-term effects of recent soccer heading. In the research, brain function among soccer players who had played for varying number of years was compared with the brain function of subjects who had never played. In his study with Shelly Ochs, Webbe also compared the functionality of players who had recently played soccer with those who had not.
The results of both studies should further fuel the debate on the safety of this common soccer practice. The results of his recency study were the most clearly defined.
Webbe found that recent heading by players who headed with "moderate-to-high frequency" led in some cases to weaker neurocognitive performance. This lessened performance includes a decline in cognitive function, difficulty in verbal learning, in planning and maintaining attention and a reduced information processing speed.
"What we found is that if Bill plays soccer on a Thursday night, and is a frequent header, he's more likely to score lower on a neurocognitive test Friday morning than a similar player who heads the ball only occasionally," said Webbe.
While recent heading is not guaranteed to decrease functionality, Webbe said it presents a strong enough risk factor to warrant further study.
The two studies seem to contradict each other on the long-term effects of soccer heading. Webbe's work with Ochs reports that, "no significant or strong effect was found for lifetime heading o
Contact: Jay Wilson
Florida Institute of Technology