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    Soccer heading immediately alters brain function and brain-muscle communication

    Parr, Johnny VV, Uiga, Liis, Marshall, Ben and Wood, Greg (2023) Soccer heading immediately alters brain function and brain-muscle communication. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 17. p. 1145700. ISSN 1662-5161

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    Introduction: There is growing evidence of a link between repetitive soccer heading and the increased incidence of neurodegenerative disease. Even a short bout of soccer heading has been shown to impair cognitive performance and disrupt movement control. However, a greater understanding of the mechanisms behind these immediate impairments is needed. The current study attempted to identify how a short bout of soccer heading alters brain function and brain-muscle communication during a movement task. Methods: Sixty soccer players were exposed to either an acute bout (i.e., 20 balls thrown underarm) of soccer heading (n = 30) or a control condition where participants (n = 30) headed soccer balls in virtual reality (VR). Before and after heading, we measured cognitive performance on the King-Devick test, as well as electromyography (EMG), electroencephalography (EEG) and brain-muscle communication (i.e., corticomuscular coherence; CMC) during a force precision task. Results: Following the heading protocol, the VR group improved their cognitive performance whereas the Heading group showed no change. Both groups displayed more precise force contractions at post-test. However, the VR group displayed elevated frontal theta activity and global increases in alpha and beta activity during the contraction task, whereas the Heading group did not. Contrary to our expectations, the Heading group displayed elevated CMC, whereas the VR group showed no change. Discussion: Our findings indicate a short bout of soccer heading may impair cognitive function and disrupt the organization of efficient neural processes that typically accompany motor skill proficiency. Soccer heading also induced corticomuscular hyperconnectivity, which could represent compensatory brain-muscle communication and an inefficient allocation of increased task-related neuromuscular resources. These initial findings offer insights to the mechanisms behind the impairments experienced after a short bout of repetitive soccer heading.

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