In today’s world, sports hold major importance in the lives of people, especially youngsters. However, there are certain risks associated with sports, particularly sports that involve physical contact. One such risk is the chance of acquiring a concussion. A concussion is a common and mild brain injury caused by a blow, bump, or jolt to the head. While concussions can be mild in most cases, repeated trauma can result in chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. This article aims to explore the relationship between concussions and CTE while answering some common questions about it.
What is CTE?
CTE, or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, is a degenerative brain condition that is caused by multiple or repeated head blows. This condition was first discovered in the brains of boxers in the 1920s, but it was later found in various athletes, particularly those who play contact sports such as football and hockey.
Initially, CTE is asymptomatic. However, over time, the repeated injuries culminate, leading to severe symptoms such as memory loss, depression, aggression, and dementia. It is vital to note that CTE is not merely an injury but a serious disease that ultimately becomes fatal.
How Does CTE Develop?
CTE results due to repetitive head trauma that causes damage to the brain. The impacts do not need to be severe, but they need to occur repeatedly over time. The accumulation of brain trauma leads to protein deposits forming in the brain, ultimately damaging brain tissue and neural pathways.
It can take years for the symptoms of CTE to appear in most cases, meaning that individuals may already have formed the condition before receiving a formal diagnosis. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know exactly how many concussions or hits are needed to develop CTE as everyone’s body responds differently to concussions.
What’s the Link Between Concussions and CTE?
Research has shown a link between repetitive concussions and the development of CTE. There is no specific number of concussions that cause CTE, but the more one has, the higher the risk of developing CTE. Additionally, research suggests that the age at which players start playing, as well as the duration of their careers, can be a factor.
Dr. Bennet Omalu and his colleagues were the first to discover a link between repeated head trauma, CTE, and American football players. In a study conducted in 2005, they found that former NFL player Mike Webster had CTE at the time of his passing. Webster had sustained many concussions throughout his career, which ultimately lead to his death. This study helped to spark more research, including the current more comprehensive studies on CTE.
How Many Concussions Before One is at Risk for CTE?
It’s impossible to determine the exact number of concussions that increase the risk of developing CTE. However, it is known that individuals who have experienced repetitive head trauma are at a higher risk than those who haven’t. Additionally, the age at which an individual starts playing contact sports, with regards to their brain development, and the duration of their career, will also play a role.
Research conducted on the brains of those who developed CTE showed the presence of protein deposits throughout their brain tissue. These individuals had varying levels of exposure to brain trauma, from boxers to football players with long careers. Unfortunately, the science of understanding what causes CTE and the number and types of impacts needed is still evolving, so it is better to err on the side of caution in this context.
CTE and Football
Increasingly, football players are coming out and sharing their stories of how they developed CTE due to prolonged and repetitive head trauma from playing. A CTE diagnosis is not just limited to those on the field. Even those playing in high school and college are at risk of developing the disease. Studies show that from high school to college football players, the number of repeated head impacts can be substantial, ultimately placing them at risk for CTE later on in life.
CTE And Youth Sports
Children are at an increased risk of developing concussion and, if left untreated or improperly handled, repeating the injury that results in permanent brain damage, including CTE. It’s important for parents and coaches to remove children from games and practices after a head trauma, even if the symptoms are mild.
It’s also crucial that coaches receive proper training before interacting with athletes to learn ways to prevent injuries by minimizing physical contact during practice and games, while also teaching the techniques that promote safe play on and off the field.
How to Prevent CTE?
There is still a long way to go in understanding CTE properly. However, many researchers suggest following the below steps can help prevent CTE:
- Protective headgear: Helmets and other protective headgear are designed to limit the impact of blows to the head. It’s crucial to wear helmets or other protective gear at all times when engaging in contact sports.
- Limit contact: Studies suggest that limiting contact between players during practices and games can help prevent CTE. Players and coaches should prioritize avoiding head-on collisions and using proper tackling techniques.
- Reduce exposure to head impacts: Reducing exposure to head impacts, especially for those playing in high-risk sports such as football and hockey, can be beneficial. Players should rest whenever concussions occur.
- Mental health support: Many mental health issues are associated with CTE. Support groups and mental health professions can be a great help for those experiencing mental health issues as a result of CTE.
CTE is a serious condition that manifests in people following repetitive head blows. Preventing and treating concussions are some of the primary measures individuals can take to avoid CTE. However, the science of understanding CTE is still evolving, meaning further research is required to fully understand its causes and prevention measures. Remove any individuals who may have experienced head trauma from practice or games until they receive proper medical help from their healthcare professionals.
Common Questions and Their Answers:
- Q: What does CTE stand for?
- A: CTE stands for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.
- Q: What causes CTE?
- A: CTE is caused by multiple or repeated head blows, often seen in those who engage in contact sports like football and hockey.
- Q: How many concussions lead to CTE?
- A: It is not possible to answer this question accurately because there is no specific number of concussions that cause CTE. The risk of acquiring CTE increases with repeated head trauma, regardless of whether there have been one or 100 concussions.
- Q: How to prevent CTE?
- A: Steps to help prevent CTE include wearing protective headgear, limiting contact during practice and games, reducing exposure to head impacts, and seeking mental health support when required.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). What is a concussion?. CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/get_the_facts.html
- Mayo Clinic. (2018). Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chronic-traumatic-encephalopathy/symptoms-causes/syc-20370921
- Miller, M. (n.d.). Study: Nearly 90% of High School Athletes with Concussions Return to Play Too Soon. American Academy of Neurology. https://www.aan.com/PressRoom/Home/PressRelease/1287
- UCLA Health. (2018). What is CTE?. UCLA Health. https://www.uclahealth.org/brain-diseases/chronic-traumatic-encephalopathy