Interview with Prof. Hermsdörfer in the “Münchner Merkur” on the health hazard of headers


The sensor from the company "Cosinuss" records head acceleration, which can be traced using the recorded data

Prof. Dr. Joachim Hermsdörfer, head of the Chair of Human movement science

Jan Kern, Research Associate at the Chair of Human movement science

Are headers harmful to the brain? A project of the Chair of Human movement science has been investigating this question since 2017. In an interview with the “Münchner Merkur”, the head of the Chair, Prof. Dr. Joachim Hermsdörfer, now talks about brain processes, the methodology and results of recent scientific studies and the effects of headers on children and adolescents.

The project, investigating the effects of football headers on cognition, sensomotorics and brain structure, was originally planned to run until the end of 2019. This has now been extended until the end of 2020. Funding from the Federal Institute of Sports Science has so far amounted to around 170,000 Euros and has been increased by around 60,000 Euros to cover the additional year. Jan Kern, Research Associate at the Chair of Human movement science, is significantly involved in the study.

“So far we have been analysing a potential health risk in female footballers. Next year, we will address an additional issue in this field and focus on potential brain damage occurring in children”, explains Prof. Hermsdörfer. “It is an extremely interesting and relevant subject, especially for adolescents.”

Since mid-2017, the history and context of all headers played by SC Regensburg women's team in the Women's Bayernliga has been compiled. The acceleration of the cranial bone was measured by evaluating a signal delivered by a sensor and compared with recorded video footage of the football matches. The aim was to investigate the extent to which the frequency and intensity of the headers experienced was related to possible changes in performance assessed in separate tests. In August 2019, an additional successful cooperation with FFC Wacker Munich's first women's team, who also played in the Bayernliga and have now been promoted to the Southern Regional League, has started.

“The idea was to collect data from FFC Wacker Munich over a complete season in order to obtain comparable figures for two women's teams”, says movement scientist Hermsdörfer. “Unfortunately, the coronavirus has now thwarted our plans, which is why we were only able to observe half a season and will now have to wait until the season continues.”

According to Prof. Hermsdörfer, there have been progressive developments in the technical field: “In the future, we will cooperate with the company Cosinuss, which will allow us to use their technological developments to measure head vibrations with extreme accuracy. These sensors can be placed behind the ear like a modern hearing aid using a standardised placement method. The advantage of this new technology is that in future we will not only be able to carry out measurements during matches but also during training, which means that video recordings will no longer be necessary." On this basis, the aim is to monitor more football teams over an entire season and ideally to obtain data records for more than 100 female players.

This technology will also be used to monitor children and adolescents. “There are already several studies on the effects of headers on a child's brain”, says Prof. Hermsdörfer. “Muscular development in children is less pronounced and anticipation is not yet mature, which is why the acceleration of the cranial bones in children after a header could be significantly higher. Ultimately, a hard ball can hit an undeveloped brain.”

As a result, the USA has already introduced a ban on headers for children. According to information from British media, the English and Scottish Football Associations also want to limit headers in training for under-18s.  Consequently, an upper limit for headers is to be introduced for adolescents.  This regulation is based on the results of a study indicating that professional footballers have a more than threefold increased risk of dying from dementia. The German Football Association (DFB) with national team doctor Prof. Dr. Tim Meyer nevertheless does not believe that a ban on headers for children makes sense at present as children in the lower age groups in the DFB rarely engage in any header activities during games and training.

 

To the interview with Prof. Dr. Joachim Hermsdörfer in the „Münchner Merkur“ (German)

To the homepage of the Chair of Human movement science

 

Contact:

Prof. Dr. Joachim Hermsdörfer
Chair of Human movement science
Uptown München, Campus D
Georg-Brauchle Ring 60/62
80992 München

phone: 089 289 24537
e-mail: Joachim.Hermsdoerfer(at)tum.de

Jan Kern
Chair of Human movement science
Uptown München, Campus D
Georg-Brauchle Ring 60/62
80992 München

phone: 089 289 24643
e-mail: Jan.Kern(at)tum.de


Text: Romy Schwaiger
Photos: Chair of Human movement science