Protect our athletes from CTE

A major topic in contact sports in recent years has been concussions. Studies have found that athletes who sustain concussions over and over again throughout their careers have a greater chance of developing Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy, or CTE for short. This neurodegenerative disease is caused from repetitive trauma to the brain, resulting in many unpleasant symptoms such as impulsive behaviour, violence, emotional instability and substance abuse. For obvious reasons, researchers have been intrigued and invested into finding evidence to show that athletes who experience recurring concussions throughout their career in sports are at high risk for CTE. With this research comes improvements in equipment, game regulations, as well as improvements in preventative measures that will be discussed in more detail later.


In recent years, neuroscientists have found a direct association between professional men’s hockey and CTE. Two former NHL players, Bob Probert and Derek Boogaard are accurate representations of this reality. Both of these athletes were considered “enforcers” in their day. Enforcers were the players who were used to intimidate their opponents and prevent them from hitting the team’s star players. By having this role on the team, these men were subjected to fierce one-on-one combat with the opponents’ nastiest members. Following the death of these two men, their brains were donated for analysis to the Boston University. Both of these former enforcers presented significant reductions in brain mass and were diagnosed with CTE.


Gratefully, this “position” in hockey is somewhat something of the past. But with these unfortunate circumstances, we have gained a great deal of understanding on neurological function. With this generation of hockey enforcers, researchers learned the serious long-term effects of trauma to the brain. This has developed many questions and arguments regarding contact sports.


Some would argue that the overwhelming amount of head trauma that these enforcers experienced is nothing compared to what young athletes would experience now. Some argue that equipment, such as helmets and mouth guards, have advanced and help protect from concussions. Both of these arguments have some truth. Hockey regulations have changed to help reduce the prevalence of concussions in minor league hockey (ie. automatic icing, no checking in minor and women’s leagues and embroidering “stop” signs on the backs of jerseys to reduce hitting from behind). Young athletes, regardless if they are on a women or men’s league allowed to check or not, concussion are inevitable. The ice and boards are both unforgiving surfaces that distribute high forces to the brain when falling or being hit. Protective equipment has improved, yet research shows that helmets and mouth guards do not protect from concussions. However, they do protect the skull from fractures and athletes from losing teeth. So where is the good news?


How can we help protect our young athletes?


Proper Recovery !

Research has found that providing enough time and rehabilitation after a concussion is extremely important. Generally, individuals feel better 3-7 days after suffering a concussion, however in some cases it takes months for the brain to recover fully. If an athlete experiences a secondary concussion before completely healing from the first, research shows that these athletes are likely to suffer from long term effects and in some cases can be life threatening. It is always pertinent to be preventative and teach our athletes about the dangers of head injuries. Don’t hit from behind, don’t check to the head and don’t play locker room boxing.


To learn more about CTE and concussion prevention, visit or talk to one of our trained clinicians at Leduc Physio.