OHSU Researcher Studies Possible Negative Impacts of Long-Term Soccer Play

09/07/99    Portland, Ore.

Lower Mental Skills Testing Scores for Amateur Soccer Players May Be Linked to Headers and Head Injuries.

Years of rough play on the soccer field may have a negative impact on a player's mental function. That's according to research reported by Dutch Neuropsychologist Erik J.T. Matser and Oregon Health Sciences University researcher Muriel D. Lezak, Ph.D., professor of neurology, School of Medicine. The conclusions are printed in the Sept. 8, issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

"Headers - hitting the ball with one's head - have always been part of the game," Lezak said. "Matser has pointed out that, in addition to these subconcussive blows, many players have also suffered concussions on the playing field."

To learn the possible effects of these injuries, Lezak worked with a research team in the Netherlands to search for an answer. The resulting study showed amateur soccer players scored lower on tests for planning and some aspects of memory than athletes involved in non-contact sports.

A total of 60 athletes were involved in the study. Thirty-three soccer players were tested along with 27 control athletes. The control athletes were in the same physical shape, age group and education level as the soccer players. Both groups of athletes had been involved with their sport for an average of 17 years. However, the control athletes had not received repeated concussive and subconcussive blows to the head.