Acute and chronic brain injury in United States National Team soccer players

Am J Sports Med. 1996 Mar-Apr;24(2):205-10. doi: 10.1177/036354659602400216.


We designed a study to determine whether chronic encephalopathy occurs in elite, active soccer players resulting from repetitive heading of the soccer ball. Studies have suggested that the cumulative effects of heading a ball can cause a chronic brain syndrome similar to dementia pugilistica, which is seen in professional boxers. Twenty of 25 members of the U.S. Men's National Soccer Team training camp (average age, 24.9; average years of soccer, 17.7), who completed a questionnaire on head injury symptoms and had magnetic resonance imaging of the brain, were compared with 20 age-matched male elite track athletes. The soccer players were surveyed about playing position, teams, number of headers, acute head injuries, and years of playing experience. An exposure index to headers was developed to assess a dose-response effect of chronic heading. The soccer and track groups were questioned regarding alcohol use and history of acute head traumas. Questionnaire analysis and magnetic resonance imaging demonstrated no statistical differences between the two groups. Among the soccer players, symptoms and magnetic resonance imaging findings did not correlate with age, years of play, exposure index results, or number of headers. However, reported head injury symptoms, especially in soccer players, correlated with histories of prior acute head injuries (r = 0.63). These findings suggest that any evidence of encephalopathy in soccer players relates more to acute head injuries received playing soccer than from repetitive heading.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adult
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain Injuries / etiology*
  • Brain Injuries / pathology
  • Chronic Disease
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Soccer / injuries*