Dr. Ann McKee: CTE and Benefits vs. Risks of Sports

Physical exercise is healthy for the mind and the body, but it's important to do it safely. Dr. Ann McKee understands people's love of sports but she also knows you need to be aware of the risks when you play them and do everything possible to mitigate the chances of a brain injury.

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There’s no question that sports, team sports, physical activity, physical fitness is incredibly important to children and adolescents and development not only physically but psychologically. We also know that exercise and physical fitness is the number one best thing you can do for your brain in terms of a healthy brain. That’s what you need to do at all ages of life. You should be doing physical fitness if you wanna keep your brain fit. But I think with the level of information we know now about tackle football, I think parents have to be very, very careful about what they’re encouraging their children to be exposed to. Now, I’m a parent, and my children are grown up, but at this point I would not let any children of mine play football. The risk is too great. You get one brain. As a parent, most parents want their children to be as productive as possible, to lead the longest, most successful lives they can. And from what I’ve seen, there’s a relatively high risk that they will become brain injured, maybe not develop CTE, but have some brain injury, and their productivity and possibility is diminished. So that’s a no-brainer to me. You want what’s best for your kids. And this lessens that. There are other sports besides football. And there are ways to avoid head trauma in other sports, but you have to be aware of it and you have to be encouraging our kids to play these games stylistically in a way that saves their head. And a lot of that’s just awareness. Hockey, for example, has head injury. But if we limit the fighting in hockey and we make some rules about the engagement in contact we could lessen that. Soccer: heading is the big problem. Heading is associated with some long-term brain injury. And we’ve seen in people that are headers of the ball, that that was always their style of play, we have had individuals with CTE at death. We have a 29-year-old who died from CTE who headed the ball since he was three. He became a semi-pro soccer player. So there may be some changes in these games that we’ve grown so fond of that we may not like because we think the games are sacred, but they will help ensure the health of the players. Maybe there’s some ways we can make these games safe enough or more safe, and that would be changing in rules of practice, eliminating contact at practice. There are some things that are intermediate fixes, so limiting contact in practice, limiting the number of games played, limiting career length in the games that are at high-risk for CTE. All of those may be acceptable alternatives to eliminating the game altogether. This video was produced by BrainLine thanks to generous support from the Infinite Hero Foundation.
Posted on BrainLine December 20, 2018.

About the author: Ann McKee, MD

Ann McKee, MD is the chief neuropathologist for the Framingham Heart Study and the Boston University-based Centenarian Study. She is also the chief neuropathologist for the Boston-based Veterans Administration Medical Centers and for the Sports Legacy Institute.

Ann McKee

This video was produced by BrainLine thanks to generous support from the Infinite Hero Foundation.