More and more studies are being conducted about contact sports and progressive brain injury. What is chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and what should we be doing to protect young athletes?
For years, we have known about a type of neurodegenerative disease, which may affect amateur and professional boxers, known as dementia pugilistica. Symptoms and signs of dementia pugilistica can develop progressively over a long period of time. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, may be similar and may be seen in more and more athletes who play contact sports like football or ice hockey. How much can the brain take, after all? It makes sense that a football player who is hit time and time again and who suffers multiple concussions would develop some sort of neurological trauma. The research that is being done on CTE is important, but it needs to be followed up with more research.
I think the increased awareness about traumatic brain injury is very helpful as is the awareness that a person doesn’t have to lose consciousness to sustain a concussion. This awareness will help everyone — from young athletes and coaches to soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Everyone, including healthcare professionals at all levels, needs to know that TBI is not necessarily a benign event and sometimes symptoms do not go away.
Steven Flanagan, MD is professor and chairman of the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, and the medical director of the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, New York University Langone Medical Center.