A Systematic Review of Head Impacts and Acceleration Associated with Soccer

Ioannis Basinas, Damien M. McElvenny, Neil Pearce, Valentina Gallo, John W. Cherrie

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Epidemiological studies of the neurological health of former professional soccer players are being undertaken to identify whether heading the ball is a risk factor for disease or premature death. A quantitative estimate of exposure to repeated sub-concussive head impacts would provide an opportunity to investigate possible exposure-response relationships. However, it is unclear how to formulate an appropriate exposure metric within the context of epidemiological studies. We have carried out a systematic review of the scientific literature to identify the factors that determine the magnitude of head impact acceleration during experiments and from observations during playing or training for soccer, up to the end of November 2021. Data were extracted from 33 experimental and 27 observational studies from male and female amateur players including both adults and chil-dren. There was a high correlation between peak linear and angular accelerations in the observational studies (p < 0.001) although the correlation was lower for the experimental data. We chose to rely on an analysis of maximum or peak linear acceleration for this review. Differences in measurement methodology were identified as important determinants of measured acceleration, and we concluded that only data from accelerometers fixed to the head provided reliable information about the magnitude of head acceleration from soccer-related impacts. Exposures differed between men and women and between children and adults, with women on average experiencing higher acceleration but less frequent impacts. Playing position appears to have some influence on the number of heading impacts but less so on the magnitude of the head acceleration. Head-to-head collisions result in high levels of exposure and thus probably risk causing a concussion. We concluded, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that estimates of the cumulative number of heading impacts over a playing career should be used as the main exposure metric in epidemiological studies of professional players.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5488
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2022


  • age
  • association football
  • epidemiology
  • heading
  • mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBIs)
  • peak linear acceleration (PLA)
  • playing position
  • repetitive sub-concussive head impacts (RSHIs)
  • sex
  • soccer


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