By Ken Reed

For a long time, parents, coaches, players, reporters and some doctors have blamed concussions for causing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the brain disease often linked to contact sports like football and hockey.

The fact is, research has revealed for some time now that it is repetitive sub-concussive blows to the brain that lead to the neurodegenerative disease commonly known as CTE.

“The concussion is really irrelevant for triggering CTE,” Dr. Lee Goldstein, an associate professor at Boston University’s School of Medicine and College of Engineering, and a corresponding author of the latest study, published in Brain, a peer-reviewed journal of neurology. “It’s really the hit that counts.”

This is scary news for football in general, and the parents and coaches of young football players in particular. It means young players, who are especially vulnerable to brain injuries due to the fact their brains are still developing, are suffering brain damage — potentially leading to CTE — without having ever suffered a concussion.

“The results (of the study) may explain why approximately 20 percent of athletes with CTE never suffered a concussion,” said Goldstein.

One of the implications of this study is that the current focus on concussion prevention and treatment protocols, while positive, really doesn’t prevent the development of CTE.

“The cumulative effect (of sub-concussive hits), when the brain is not fully healed, particularly in younger people, is really, really damaging, and that’s the problem,” said Goldstein.

“You won’t see it by focusing on concussion. In fact, it’s guaranteed that you won’t see it. There are many players who are hit, who are hurt and who aren’t getting help because it’s clear that they’re not at the level of concussion. Their brains are not in good shape and they go on to the next hit and the next one.”

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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