Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Heading in football. Part 1: Development of biomechanical methods to investigate head response


Objectives: There has been growing controversy regarding long term effects of repeated low severity head impacts such as when heading a football. However, there are few scientific data substantiating these concerns in terms of the biomechanical head response to impact. The present study aimed to develop a research methodology to investigate the biomechanical response of human subjects during intentional heading and identify strategies for reducing head impact severity.

Methods: A controlled laboratory study was carried out with seven active football players, aged 20–23 and of average stature and weight. The subjects were fitted with photographic targets for kinematic analysis and instrumented to measure head linear/angular accelerations and neck muscle activity. Balls were delivered at two speeds (6 m/s and 8 m/s) as the subjects executed several specific forward heading manoeuvres in the standing position. Heading speeds up to 11 m/s were seen when the head closing speed was considered. One subject demonstrating averaged flexion–extension muscle activity phased with head acceleration data and upper torso kinematics was used to validate a biofidelic 50th percentile human model with a detailed head and neck. The model was exercised under ball incoming speeds of 6–7 m/s with parameter variations including torso/head alignment, neck muscle tensing, and follow through. The model output was subsequently compared with additional laboratory tests with football players (n = 3). Additional heading scenarios were investigated including follow through, non-active ball impact, and non-contact events. Subject and model head responses were evaluated with peak linear and rotational accelerations and maximum incremental head impact power.

Results: Modelling of neck muscle tensing predicted lower head accelerations and higher neck loads whereas volunteer head acceleration reductions were not consistent. Modelling of head–torso alignment predicted a modest reduction in volunteer head accelerations. Exaggerated follow through while heading reduced volunteer head accelerations modestly.

Conclusion: Biomechanical methods were developed to measure head impact response. Changing the biomechanics of currently accepted heading techniques will have inconsistent benefits towards the reduction of head loading. Furthermore, mathematical modelling suggested an increased risk of neck loads with one alternative technique. No consistent recommendations can be made on the basis of the current study for altering heading techniques to reduce impact severity.

  • CTBI, chronic traumatic brain injury
  • EMG, electromyography
  • HIP, Head Impact Power (index)
  • MTBI, mild traumatic brain injury
  • MVC, mean voluntary contraction
  • NFL, National Football League
  • RMS, root mean square
  • TBI, traumatic brain injury
  • WSTC, Wayne State Tolerance Curve
  • soccer/football injuries
  • concussions
  • biomechanics
  • heading
  • prevention

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.