The American version of football involves violent and hard-hitting contact and, quite often, a player’s head is part of the hitting. That’s precisely the reason why players from the National Football League all the way down to youth Pop Warner Football wear helmets. Brain injuries are one of the reasons why football helmet research and development continues to be performed.
What is Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy?
There is medical evidence that shows within a high degree of certainty that repeated head trauma and concussions suffered by American football players causes brain degeneration known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). This degeneration is frightening too. Its symptoms include depression, memory loss, aggressive behavior and in some cases, murder or suicide. Unfortunately, at this point in time, a diagnosis of CTE is only made from an autopsy after examining different sections of the brain. The condition has been found in both American football players, boxers, hockey players and even bobsledders from around the world.
How Many Football Players Have Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy?
In one study that was published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, over 99% of deceased former NFL players were diagnosed with CTE.
Nobody really knows how many current NFL players have CTE and continue to play with it as the condition can’t be diagnosed until after death.
Tau Protein Buildup
Repeated head trauma can damage brain fibers and cells and cause a buildup of a protein known as tau which is believed to cause brain cell death. Losing those cells is believed to interfere with brain function and cause CTE symptoms. Researchers are currently working on the development of diagnostic tests that might identify CTE while a sufferer is still alive.
CTE Evidence is Irrefutable and It Continues to Emerge
For decades, despite insurmountable evidence, the NFL denied a nexus between blows to the head and brain damage until it was confronted with a class action lawsuit by about 4,500 retired players. The NFL subsequently agreed to a settlement of about $1 billion. In response to emerging evidence, the league developed specific protocols that include rules about how a quarterback can be hit and the lowering of helmets when tackling them. The league has also invested heavily in CTE research. None of this means that the NFL will be releasing numbers of how many current players show signs of CTE. It might be impossible to do so.
Is CTE Treatable?
There are treatment alternatives available for for former athletes who are believed to be suffering from CTE that can help them lead a better quality of life. These might include the following:
- Behavioral therapy to reduce the frequency and severity of mood swings.
- Pain management therapy consisting of drugs, massage and acupuncture for reducing pain and discomfort.
- Memory therapy and exercises for helping to recall day to day events.
A new drug that is intended to stop tau protein buildup is being developed at the University of South Australia. Human trials are the next step. No reports on the efficacy of the drug have been published. Considerable research still needs to be done on CTE, but as long as football remains a sport with violent impacts, it will still remain a dangerous brain game, and any indication of how many current NFL players suffer from CTE is pure speculation.