In 2019, a study conducted by British researchers revealed that former footballers were about three and a half times more likely to die a neurodegenerative disease than the general population. The reason: these professionals are exposed to repeated head trauma as a result of the sport they practice, and in particular from shocks during the head game. Since then, authorities have been campaigning to limit as a precautionary principle heads in children or, more generally, during training. Two years later, new research conducted by researchers at the University of Glasgow specifies that the risk of dementia would be directly related to the position of the players and the length of their career.
This study, called “FIELD” (for Football’s Influence on Lifelong Health and Dementia Risk), the results of which have been published. in the journal JAMA Neurology consisted of reviewing the medical records of 8,000 former professional footballers Scots born between 1900 and 1976 and 23,000 people “control” of the general population. The goal: to explore whether the risk of neurodegenerative disease varied according to the position of the player, his career length or a specific period of play. The results show that, for goalkeepers, the risk of neurodegenerative disease is similar to the general population level but the risk to outfielders is almost four times higher.
Too many hits to the head lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy
And among all these categories of players, these are the ones placed in defense who are most at risk, multiplied by five. “These new findings also show that diagnoses of neurodegenerative diseases increase with career length, ranging from an approximately doubled risk in people to having the shortest career about 5 times higher among those with the longest career. », Specifies the scientific team. However, there is no evidence regarding the time of play: the risk of neurodegenerative disease is no different. according to footballers included in this study whose career spanned from around 1930 to the late 1990s.
“We have already established that former professional footballers are at much higher risk deaths from dementia and other neurodegenerative disorders. These latest data suggest that this risk reflects cumulative exposure to factors associated with positions in the field. », Specifies Professor Willie Stewart. The article published on its website also indicates that alongside this work, a specific pathology linked to exposure brain damage, known as “chronic traumatic encephalopathy”, has been described in a high proportion of former contact sports athletes, including former amateur and professional footballers.
“Soccer balls must be sold with a health warning”
In the case of players positioned in defense on a field, this risk is explained by the fact that in the latter, the number of head injuries and head injuries carried out, ie a collision between the head and the ball, is more frequent. “Taking these results into account with our data and others from our FIELD studies, it is clear that the most important risk factor for neurodegenerative disease in football is exposure to traumatic brain injuries and impacts to the head. A precautionary approach should be adopted to reduce or even eliminate exposure to unnecessary impacts on the head and better manage head injuries in football and other sports. », Notes Professor Willie Stewart.
However, the researcher does not advise football fans to deprive themselves of their favorite sport, physical practice being beneficial. in cancer prevention and cardiovascular disease. But according to the latter, it is up to football’s governing bodies to act by doing everything possible to protect professional footballers from these risks. The scientific team also suggests that the balloons be sold with a warning stating that repeated headshots on a soccer ball may lead to an increased risk of dementia. Finally, it recommends better monitoring of players who have been exposed brain damage and have not yet developed disease.