In one of the more eye-opening stories of the week, a UK hair transplant surgeon has called for an investigation into a possible link between regularly heading a football and hair loss.
According to The Sun, the appropriately-named Dr Edward Ball said that repeatedly heading the ball could be causing professional footballers’ scalps to become inflamed. When taking into account daily training sessions, games and specific heading practice exercises, the concerns regarding potential scalp trauma and damage to the follicles do seem valid.
“We know that inflammation is a factor in many cases of both scarring and non-scarring alopecias,” he tells The Sun. “And when a footballer heads the ball, they typically connect with it where the hairline meets the forehead.”
He adds that he expects this repeated trauma on the hairline could cause chronic inflammation and possibly lead to hair loss.
Footballers and thinning hair
It’s a remarkable claim, and Dr Ball of The Maitland Clinic, notes that it is a connection between football and thinning hair that hasn’t been made before. Indeed, other hair transplant surgeons have lent their support to the notion and welcome the suggestion that the idea be studied further.
Up until now, the accepted theory has been that footballers have been losing their hair to the genetic condition Male Pattern Baldness. There are many reasons this seems likely, beginning with the fact that many players are in classic male hair loss territory, being both men and often in their 20s and 30s.
While Male Hair Loss is often associated with older men, it is increasingly common for a man’s hair to start thinning when he is much younger.
Additionally, stress – both mental and physical – that is placed on the body is known to speed up the effects of the condition, and most people would agree that, despite the pay packet, being a footballer is far from easy. Fitness regimes can be punishing, while travelling schedules, media interest and, of course, professional pressures can all hike up the stress levels.
Whilst footballers are still as prone to genetic hair loss as the next man, it may be worth considering if any external factors could be contributing to their receding hairline or a thinning crown. Repeated trauma could potentially lead to cicatricial alopecia concerns regarding the hair follicles being damaged to the point that they no longer function. This would leave those areas bald and, without functioning hair follicles, pharmaceutical treatment would not be possible, surgery would be the only option.
Hair loss treatment suitable for footballers
Any footballers, professional or otherwise, who are worried about losing their hair will be heartened to hear that clinically-proven treatment is available – and it doesn’t require a Premiership wage, either!
Male Hair Loss treatment begins with a consultation whereby a specialist will discuss the client’s medical history and lifestyle, as many men are stunned to find that the way they live could be exacerbating something they had believed to be entirely genetic. From there, an appropriate treatment course will be put together to effectively target the individual’s specific pattern and level of shedding.
Treatment plans typically employ the only two clinically-proven, MHRA licensed and FDA approved medications shown to stop genetic hair shedding and promote active hair growth: finasteride 1mg and high strength minoxidil.
Whether or not finasteride 1mg is suitable for professional sportsmen is a common query. As of 1st January 2009 the ban on this oral hair loss treatment was lifted and it is now believed to be used by many footballers. Hair loss treatments became the subject of one of then Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger’s famous rants after he grumbled about the number of players using them.
Further studies needed
For Dr Ball to be able to test his theories further he suggests that a study of biopsies taken from footballers’ scalps should be analysed. Another way would be to take a control group of men who experienced the same kind of lifestyles as professional footballers but who didn’t actually play. However, the two groups would need to be sizeable for meaningful data to emerge. It seems highly unlikely that large numbers of professional footballers would be willing to enrol for either option.
Christina Chikaher, superintendent pharmacist prescriber at Belgravia’s flagship London hair loss clinic, says: “Seems like a logical deduction. I would think that the constant impact of the ball on the scalp would not only cause inflammation, which could eventually damage the hair follicles, but actually cause immediate damage on impact which may be irreversible. More research definitely needs to be done.”
What may in fact be happening in terms of footballers and their hair thinning is that spectators and TV cameras are simply being presented with evidence of young men growing older with each passing season. And some of them, like Wayne Rooney despite his hair transplant operations, are losing their hair because they are genetically pre-programmed to do so.
Senior Belgravia hair loss specialist, Leonora Doclis (pictured) is in agreement with Christina: “Heading the ball with the regularity of professional footballers could well be an accelerating factor as any form of trauma can potentially accelerate hairloss. Male Pattern Baldness is common among men of similar age to the majority of professional footballers, it is just because they are famous and accessible up-close via the TV and media, hence we focus on them. It’s worth remembering that there are a lot more balding men on the streets of London who do not play football at a professional level! Until a biopsy is done to confirm whether this repeated trauma could be behind an additional hair loss condition – scarring aka cicatricial alopecia – rather than simply accelerating hereditary MPB, this is simply a theory. “
Perhaps the effects could be studied as part of a wider ranging investigation into heading the ball. This is especially important given a report by the University of Stirling in 2016 into headers and mental impairment, and new safety regulations suggested in the USA regarding headers.
The Telegraph reports that the University of Stirling study, conducted on adult footballers during one heading practice session, revealed “a reduction in memory performance of 41-67 per cent in the 24 hours after players headed a football 20 times that was delivered with the pace and power of a corner kick. Memory function did return to normal 24 hours later but, with many former footballers being diagnosed with brain conditions in later life, the call for urgent and more detailed research has grown ever louder.”
Additionally, according to a report in The Guardian, the National Soccer Coaches Association of America debated proposed regulations for the teaching of headers to children aged 13 and under. It reports: “As part of a legal settlement in November, US Soccer now recommends that players shouldn’t head the ball at age 10 and under. From 11 to 13, players may be allowed to head the ball during matches but have only limited exposure in training.”
These measures, designed to help prevent the brain damage issues now being seen in older players and avoid subconcussive blows, do not appear to have been added to the US Soccer ‘Recognize to Recover’ programme information on its website yet. In December 2016 the UK’s Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) also appealed to the FA and the Scottish FA to implement a ban on heading the ball for children aged 10 and under.
The Belgravia Centre is an organisation specialising in hair growth and hair loss prevention with two clinics and in-house pharmacies in Central London, UK. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation Form from anywhere in the world. View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which includes the world’s largest gallery of hair growth comparison photos and demonstrates the levels of success that so many of Belgravia’s patients achieve. You can also phone 020 7730 6666 any time to arrange a free consultation.