The diagnosis of CTE, caused by repeated blows to the head, increases with each additional year played of rugby. The disease causes memory problems, aggression, depression and dementia
For every additional year played of rugby, the risk of players developing a degenerative brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The disease is caused by repeated injuries to the head, which do not necessarily result in concussions (concussion in English) and can only be formally diagnosed post-mortem with an autopsy. Although CTE occurs more often at older ages with memory problems, reduced cognitive performance, mood changes, aggression, depression which can push to suicide, dementia and Alzheimer’s the disease was also diagnosed in a 17 year old boy who played American football. CTE is believed to be caused by repeated head injuries: the blows shake the brain which hits against the skull and the tissues are damaged. Numerous post-mortem studies have shown that people who regularly play contact sports such as American football, soccer, boxing, rugby and ice hockey are more likely to develop the pathology. And the problem does not only concern professional athletes, but also children who practice sport at an amateur level as highlighted by a recent study published in Jama Neurology.
The risk of CTE increases by 14% for each additional year of gaming
In this new study conducted by the University of Glasgow the 68% of the 31 rugby players who donated their brains to science had CTE. The post-mortem diagnosis involved both professional (8) and amateur (23) players. The scientists found that the risk of developing CTE was linked to length of rugby career of the player continued for an average of 18 years: with every additional year of gaming the risk of CTE increases by 14%. “It is the shaking, twisting and turning of the head thousands of times over decades that can cause profound damage to the brain,” says Professor Willie Stewart, lead author of the study published in Acta Neuropathologica. «CTE is a predictable disease and there is an urgent need for it reduce not only the number of head impactsbut also the power of these impacts in rugby as well as other contact sports to protect players from the disease” he says Ann McKeeone of the authors of the study and a neuropathologist at the CTE Center at Boston University.
The greatest evidence concerns American football players
The study, although small, adds new evidence to the large puzzle of work involving contact sports. Amateur as well as professional players, men as well as women can develop CTE after years of grueling matches and hard training. Much of the evidence regarding hits to the head and the risk of CTE comes from NFL football players: to over 90% of former NFL athletes CTE has been diagnosed in several post-mortem studies.
Damage also results from minor but repeated injuries
Rugby has a remarkably high risk of concussion compared to other contact sports, but relatively few cases of CTE have been described in former rugby players so far. While this study showed that some people who played amateur rugby developed brain pathologies, the strongest data linking contact sports to neurodegeneration still comes from professional players. «As the evidence increases, we have come to understand that the greatest risk factor for CTE is the repeated blows to the head , regardless of concussion symptomsand now we know that Multiple head injuries, even “mild” ones, can lead to memory problems and other cognitive deficits» comments Tara Soires-Jones, neuroscientist at the University of Edinburgh. In June, a study of 631 deceased football players – the largest CTE study to date – found that NFL players’ chances of developing CTE were related to both the number and strength of impacts to the head, and the duration of players’ careers, but not to the number of full-blown concussions. It is a good idea to protect the brain as best as possible by limiting head blows and injuries as much as possible, scientists agree and invite sports clubs to take action. At the same time the researchers underline how it is their own physical activitybetter not from contact, to protect against dementia.
October 28, 2023 (modified October 28, 2023 | 08:51)
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