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After fevered media coverage of a possible link between football (soccer) heading and long-term damage to the brain, 2016 saw the Professional Footballers’ Association call for a review of the game to decide whether to follow the lead of the United States Soccer and ban heading for younger players. Given these concerns, and the fact the relevant Rules of Football were conceived over 100 years ago, is it time for major rule changes? Is there evidence that football increases risk of neurodegenerative disease (eg, dementia) and heading is to blame?
(No) Data on dementia risk in football
Remarkably, despite phenomenal football participation rates globally and over a century of participation, there is little evidence regarding football’s impact on brain health, and dementia in particular. Football is a contact sport and concussive head injuries do occur, but multiple reviews of the available research literature have drawn the same conclusions: football concussion outcomes are consistent with the general concussion literature, with weak to non-existent evidence for a link between football play and long-term neurological or cognitive deficits.1–3 However, a common feature of most football research …
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