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PFA and FA study on neurological effects of playing professional football

General view of match action between Arsenal's Gabriel Paulista and Burnley's Steven Defour

The neurological, neuroimaging and neuropsychological effects of playing professional football: Results of the UK five-year follow-up study

Steven Kemp, Alistair Duff & Natalie Hampson.

A longitudinal study commissioned by the Professional Footballers’ Association and The Football Association looking at the neurological, neuroimaging and neuropsychological effects of playing professional football…

Abstract

Background: Whilst the scientific understanding of mild traumatic brain injury sequelae has advanced, the consequences of neurological insults sustained during football play in the form of multiple concussions and heading remains unclear.

Method: To the authors’ knowledge, this is the first longitudinal prospective study to follow-up a group of footballers and controls over time. Thirty-two elite young professional footballers were recruited and 24 were identified at follow-up. Thirty-three controls were recruited and 17 identified at follow-up. Medical examination, MRI (brain) imaging and detailed neuropsychological data were collected on the footballers at baseline and 5-year follow-up. Medical examination and detailed neuropsychological data were collected on the controls at baseline and 5-year follow-up.

Results: All participants had normal neurological examination at both time points. At baseline, 37% of the footballers had sustained minor neurological insults. Between baseline and 5 years, 66% of the footballers had sustained minor neurological insults. No MRI (brain) abnormalities were identified among the footballers at either time point. Regarding the neuropsychology, there was a 6-point IQ difference between footballers and controls, with the footballers being low. Test–re-test analysis on a range of carefully selected neurocognitive tests revealed a picture of good stability in cognitive functioning over this 5-year period.

Conclusions: These longitudinal prospective data indicate no significant neurological, structural brain imaging or neuropsychological change among a sample of young elite professional footballers over the first 5 years of their professional career.

Download the full study here (subscription required): http://dx.doi.org/10.3109/02699052.2016.1148776

As part of the recommendations from the Expert Concussion Panel, the PFA and The FA have committed to jointly fund further research into the issue of whether degenerative brain disease is more common in ex-footballers.