By Ken Reed

It’s mid-August and that means youth and high school football, and soccer, are upon us.

That means it’s time to revisit the subject of brain trauma. And that means focusing less on concussions and more on repetitive subconcussive head impacts.

When it comes to brain trauma and CTE in sports, research has shown that we’ve put too much emphasis on concussions.

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

To be sure, concussions are never good, but 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,” said Dr. Lee Goldstein, an associate professor at Boston University’s School of Medicine and College of Engineering, and a corresponding author of a study published in Brain, a peer-reviewed journal of neurology. “It’s really the hit that counts.”

That’s scary news for football in general, and the parents and coaches of young football players in particular. It’s also bad news for young soccer players (and their parents) — especially if they are in leagues that allow unlimited heading. 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 ever having 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 fully address 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.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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