In Britain, becoming a professional footballer is every little boy’s dream. However, a top neuroscientist has stated that heading the ball should be banned for youngsters because of the dangers involved.
A motor neuro-science expert at the University of Birmingham, Dr Michael Grey, said the impact of the brain against the skull could cause damage. He said children’s neck muscles are not adequately developed to handle the impact.
There are several high profile doctors who have issued warnings about the danger of children heading footballs. This came after scans revealed apparent damage to professional players’ brains.
Research and experiments on animals have shown mixed results.
Dr Grey is not saying that children should stop sport as the obesity epidemic means they should be encouraged to be active. He would however want experts to look at changing the rules and the manner in which children are trained.
He said children should not be heading balls as it is not known at what age their necks become strong enough to withstand the impact and movement of their head when the ball strikes it.
He added that some of his colleagues have suggested that it is strong enough at the age of 14, however he believes that it varies from one child to another. Along with the impact, the brain starts to rotate and shake when the ball hits the head. The brain bounces back and forth and the impact of the brain hitting against the skull causes more damage.
The Football Association has issued new guidelines on head injuries and concussion. The new rules state that if a player is unconscious, they have to be taken off the field immediately and will not be allowed to return later. However, if the player has suffered a blow to the head and does not lose consciousness, the team doctor will have the final say as to whether the player should continue playing.
In the US, some schools have already placed bans on children heading the ball during games.
The inquest into the death of Jeff Astle, an England and West Bromwich Albion player, during 2002 stated that he had died from an ‘industrial disease’. This was due to heading a heavy ball during all the years of his career.
The new rules implemented by the FA have caused anger among Astle’s family members as there is no particular guidance to how it should be done and the effect it has. Jeff Astle’s daughter, Dawn, said they are fully aware of the reason for her father’s death. The coroner’s report stated industrial disease, which implied that heading footballs killed him, yet the FA will not acknowledge this.
A leading neuro-surgeon, Dr Willie Stewart, and the Astle family are set to meet with FA representatives to try and persuade them about the dangers of heading.
A report issued by Chris Bryant, a MP, and Baroness Grey-Thompson, titled ‘Concussion Can Kill’, called for an investigation by parliament into head injuries during sport. The report was published during June and asked for steps to be taken to limit the number of times players, particularly young ones, are able to head the ball during a match.
It stated that guidelines should be implemented across all sports to ensure the efficient and prompt diagnosis and treatment of concussion.
Dr Grey stated that new evidence is being found which shows the need to be concerned, however this is still a difficult problem. He said that some people are more susceptible to head injuries in this type of situation, whilst others are more resilient and medical professionals do not know the reason for this.
He stated that coaches and parents should be educated about secondary concussion syndrome and suitable guidelines should be followed. He added that there is the need to protect players from themselves.
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