Soccer causes degenerative changes in the cervical spine

Eur Spine J. 2004 Feb;13(1):76-82. doi: 10.1007/s00586-003-0623-y. Epub 2003 Nov 28.


Background: Radiological changes and degeneration of the cervical spine have been previously described in soccer players. The onset of such changes was 10-20 years earlier than that of the normal population. The aim of this study was to assess these early degenerative changes in amateur active and veteran soccer players in a cross-sectional descriptive study using biomechanical, radiological, and magnetic resonance measures.

Methods: The subjects were active (<30 years; n=15) and veteran (>30 years; n=15) male amateur soccer players, and their age-matched controls ( n=13 and n=15). Biomechanical measurements were made on a cervical dynamometer. Dynamic radiological and magnetic resonance findings were also obtained and evaluated.

Results: The normalized mean extension moment was higher in the active soccer players, but the mean range of motion was lower. Degenerative changes were prominent in veteran players, and the sagittal diameter of their spinal canal at C2 to C6 was lower when compared to active players and controls. Magnetic resonance findings of degeneration were more prominent in soccer players when compared to their age-matched controls.

Conclusion: A tendency towards early degenerative changes exists in soccer players most probably due to high- and/or low-impact recurrent trauma to the cervical spine caused by heading the ball.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cervical Vertebrae / pathology*
  • Cervical Vertebrae / physiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Cumulative Trauma Disorders / pathology
  • Cumulative Trauma Disorders / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neck Injuries / etiology
  • Neck Injuries / pathology
  • Neck Injuries / physiopathology
  • Range of Motion, Articular
  • Soccer* / injuries
  • Spinal Diseases / etiology*
  • Spinal Diseases / pathology*
  • Spinal Diseases / physiopathology