Recent and Long-Term Soccer Heading Exposure Is Differentially Associated With Neuropsychological Function in Amateur Players

November 2, 2017

Authors: Cara F Levitch, Molly E Zimmerman, Naomi Lubin, Namhee Kim, Richard B Lipton, Walter F Stewart, Mimi Kim, Michael L Lipton

Journal: Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society

DOI: 10.1017/S1355617717000790

Year Published: 2017


The present study examined the relative contribution of recent or long-term heading to neuropsychological function in amateur adult soccer players.

Participants and Methods:

Soccer players completed a baseline questionnaire (HeadCount-12m) to ascertain heading during the prior 12 months (long-term heading, LTH) and an online questionnaire (HeadCount-2w) every 3 months to ascertain heading during the prior 2 weeks (recent heading, RH). Cogstate, a battery of six neuropsychological tests, was administered to assess neuropsychological function. Generalized estimating equations were used to test if LTH or RH was associated with neuropsychological function while accounting for the role of recognized concussion.


A total of 311 soccer players completed 630 HeadCount-2w. Participants had an average age of 26 years. Participants headed the ball a median of 611 times/year (mean=1,384.03) and 9.50 times/2 weeks (mean=34.17). High levels of RH were significantly associated with reduced performance on a task of psychomotor speed (p=.02), while high levels of LTH were significantly associated with poorer performance on tasks of verbal learning (p=.03) and verbal memory (p=.04). Significantly better attention (p=.02) was detectable at moderately high levels of RH, but not at the highest level of RH. One hundred and seven (34.4%) participants reported a lifetime history of concussion, but this was not related to neuropsychological function and did not modify the association of RH or LTH with neuropsychological function.


High levels of both RH and LTH were associated with poorer neuropsychological function, but on different domains. The clinical manifestations following repetitive exposure to heading could change with chronicity of exposure. (JINS, 2017, 23, 1-9).

Back to Publications