Football, hockey and soccer linked with brain damage

On Behalf of | Feb 24, 2023 | Brain Injury |

Sports fans in Washington and around the country will probably be aware that several professional and amateur football, baseball and soccer leagues have introduced new rules and protocols in recent years to protect players from head and brain injuries. These changes were made when doctors realized that repeated minor head impacts that are part and parcel of contact sports can lead to the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is a debilitating brain disease that is linked with early-onset dementia.

Every game increases the risk

Athletes often believe that they only have to worry about brain injuries if they suffer a major blow to the head or are knocked unconscious, but this is not true. They often put disorientation, fatigue, nausea and confusion down to being “shaken up,” but these are all symptoms of the kind of brain injury that can lead to CTE. When researchers from Boston University studied head impacts in hockey, they concluded that every game increased CTE risks, and every year spent on the ice increased the chances of developing the condition by 23%.

Contact sports

CTE is most often associated with violent sports like football, hockey, rugby and boxing, but even athletes who play less physical contact sports have higher risks of developing the disease. This was the conclusion reached by Norwegian researchers who examined blood samples drawn from 89 soccer players who often headed the ball. The samples contained biomarkers linked to 12 of the brain’s signaling pathways, which suggests that even playing a sport as seemingly benign as soccer could cause long-term brain injuries and diseases.

More must be done

Professional and amateur sports organizations should be applauded for taking steps to protect their players from brain injuries and neurological diseases, but the latest science makes it clear that far more should be done. Most worrying of all is the discovery that even sports considered safe for children to play could cause long-term neurological damage.