Headers Can Lead to Spine Degeneration over TimeThe world is wild for soccer. Soccer can be a great life-long sport. Around the world, people play soccer from childhood to old age. That's wonderful for overall fitness. But it may become a real pain in the neck, literally.
It is known that heading the ball too much can cause damage to the head and brain. These researchers from Turkey looked at whether soccer players also caused damage to the cervical spine (the spine in the neck). They looked at the cervical spine in 30 male soccer players and 30 regular guys. Everyone was tested for neck strength and range of motion. X-rays and MRI scans were also taken of the cervical spine.
Soccer players under age 30 had better neck strength and range of motion. However, that didn't seem to help in the long run. Players over 30 had no more strength and worse range of motion than the control group. Worst of all, soccer players had more spinal degeneration in the neck than the control group. Soccer players over 30 showed much more degeneration. Degenerative changes included bulging discs, spinal cord compression, and bony growths in the spinal canal.
The authors believe that the intense forces from heading the ball damage the neck over time. The authors question whether strength training for the neck would help limit spinal degeneration. Only further research will tell for sure.
Alparslan Kartal, et al. Soccer Causes Degenerative Changes in the Cervical Spine. In European Spine Journal. February 2004. Vol. 13. No. 1. Pp. 76-82.
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