Headers and concussions in elite female and male football: a pilot study





Background: Heading is a risk factor for neurogenerative disease in football. However, the exposure to heading in elite football training is understudied.

Objectives: The primary purpose of this study was to determine the exposure to headers in elite men’s and women’s football and to describe the effects of the headers on ocular markers.

Methods: Exposure to headers was observed over three days of women’s and men’s football. The number of headers at each session was determined through video analysis, and the G-force was determined via an impact tracker. Ocular markers were assessed at the start and end of the three days, and the results were compared to determine if there were any changes. Self-reported exposure to heading was recorded after each session and compared to the number of headers observed through video analysis, to assess the validity of players’ self-reporting.

Results: Female players made an average of 11 headers per player per session. Ninety percent of the headers were below 10G, and none were above 80G. Male players made an average of three headers per player per session, with 74% of the headers recording a G-force above 10G and 3% above 80G. No meaningful changes were observed post-session in the ocular markers, and no concussions were observed. Neither cohort was able to accurately self-report exposure to headers.

Conclusion: Longitudinal studies should be designed and conducted across different levels of play in both women and men’s football as a prerequisite to develop evidence-based measures to prevent or mitigate the potential risks associated with headers and concussions in elite football.


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How to Cite

den Hollander, S., & Gouttebarge, V. (2023). Headers and concussions in elite female and male football: a pilot study. South African Journal of Sports Medicine, 35(1). https://doi.org/10.17159/2078-516X/2023/v35i1a15236