Football concussions

In professional English football, no official statistics on concussion rates are released. However, data from a number of sources demonstrate football to be a source of concussions and head injury hospitalisations, particularly in the youth and school settings.

The Football Association

In England, the Football Association (FA) has released its own concussion guidelines based on those produced by the Concussion in Sport Group in 2012. The FA’s concussion motto for all levels is clear, ‘if in doubt, sit them out’. Unlike rugby and cricket, English football does not currently permit concussion substitutes.

The Drake Foundation’s work in football began with the funding of a project examining former professional players with a history of repetitive football head impacts. In this groundbreaking case series, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was identified in the brains of four football players. While a very small study, this work was an important step in bringing the conversation around sports concussion and CTE to the world of association football.

Head injuries in football

February 2017 marked the publication of our first completed study, ‘Mixed pathologies including chronic traumatic encephalopathy account for dementia in retired association football (soccer) players’, the first of its kind. In this study, brains from a group of retired football players were studied for signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). A total of 14 former players were included in the study and post-mortem brain examination conducted on 6. The first phase of this research, looking at football injury rates, is highlighted below.

Behaviour changes in retired football players

The second phase of this research, focusing on behavioural changes recorded prior to death in retired former players, is highlighted below.

Post-morten examination

The final phase of this research, focusing on the post-mortem brain examination of the players, is highlighted below.

Football’s InfluencE on Lifelong health and Dementia risk (FIELD) study

In November 2017, the FA announced its decision to fund the Football’s Influence on Lifelong Health and Dementia Risk (FIELD) Study. The study, led by Glasgow pathologist Dr Willie Stewart and overseen by The Drake Foundation, analyses data from Scottish medical records in order to answer the question: ‘Is the incidence of degenerative neurocognitive disease more common in ex-professional footballers than in the normal population?’

In 2018, we decided to build on our work with the BRAIN Study by funding the Health and Ageing Data IN the Game of football (HEADING) Study. This cross-sectional study is working with retired footballers to uncover associations between a history of heading the ball or football concussions and neurodegenerative disease.

Potential markers for concussion injury

In addition to our focus on the long-term effects of football head injuries, we have also funded a biomarker project in partnership with the University of Birmingham. This project tests saliva and urine samples taken from Premier League footballers with the aim of identifying potential markers for concussion injury.

The Drake Foundation collaborates with stakeholders from across English football, in particular through our Annual UK Sports Concussion Research Symposium, held in partnership with the FA.