The neurological, neuroimaging and neuropsychological effects of playing professional football: Results of the UK five-year follow-up study

Brain Inj. 2016;30(9):1068-74. doi: 10.3109/02699052.2016.1148776. Epub 2016 May 16.


Background: Whilst the scientific understanding of mild traumatic brain injury sequelae has advanced, the consequences of neurological insults sustained during football play in the form of multiple concussions and heading remains unclear.

Method: To the authors' knowledge, this is the first longitudinal prospective study to follow-up a group of footballers and controls over time. Thirty-two elite young professional footballers were recruited and 24 were identified at follow-up. Thirty-three controls were recruited and 17 identified at follow-up. Medical examination, MRI (brain) imaging and detailed neuropsychological data were collected on the footballers at baseline and 5-year follow-up. Medical examination and detailed neuropsychological data were collected on the controls at baseline and 5-year follow-up.

Results: All participants had normal neurological examination at both time points. At baseline, 37% of the footballers had sustained minor neurological insults. Between baseline and 5 years, 66% of the footballers had sustained minor neurological insults. No MRI (brain) abnormalities were identified among the footballers at either time point. Regarding the neuropsychology, there was a 6-point IQ difference between footballers and controls, with the footballers being low. Test-re-test analysis on a range of carefully selected neurocognitive tests revealed a picture of good stability in cognitive functioning over this 5-year period.

Conclusions: These longitudinal prospective data indicate no significant neurological, structural brain imaging or neuropsychological change among a sample of young elite professional footballers over the first 5 years of their professional career.

Keywords: Heading; concussion; football; neurology; neuropsychology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Athletes / psychology*
  • Athletic Injuries / diagnostic imaging*
  • Athletic Injuries / psychology
  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain Injuries / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain Injuries / psychology
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology
  • Neuroimaging
  • Neurologic Examination
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • Soccer / injuries*
  • Young Adult