Brain Injury Awareness Month: CTE and the Dangers of Playing Football

How Football Can Lead to Brain Injury Even Without a Concussion

It’s Brain Injury Awareness Month, so we’re taking this opportunity to talk about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and its effects on the mind. CTE is a degenerative brain disease that can lead to changes in a person’s behavior, mood swings, and cognitive problems. The disease tends to get worse over time, often leading to signs of dementia and even suicide. While the medical community used to associate CTE with concussions, new studies suggest that CTE can actually result from repeated hits to the head even without a concussion. These findings are changing the way we think about games like football where players are often hit in the head. Learn more about CTE, its connections to football, and how the healthcare community can help prevent brain injuries.

Making the Connection Between Football and CTE

Football is ubiquitous in American culture. The NFL is a billion-dollar industry, one that brings joy to millions of people all over the world. But a recent study published in Brain: A Journal of Neurology suggests that getting hit in the head repeatedly can lead to CTE, permanently altering a person’s mental abilities. In football, we tend to pay little attention when a player gets hit in the head unless they appear seriously injured or suffer a concussion. For some players, getting hit in the head can be a common occurrence. It may happen multiple during a game or at practice after school. But as this study suggests, getting hit in the head can have serious consequences even if the person doesn’t suffer a concussion.

NFL player Junior Seau lost his life to CTE. Seau took his own life in 2012 after a long battle with CTE, suffering from frequent headaches, depression, memory loss and dementia. His death shed a light on the lasting effects of CTE and the sacrifices professional football players make for the sake of the game. At the time of his death, Seau left a suicide note requesting that his brain be donated to science, so the effects of CTE could be studied.

Raising Awareness for CTE

As the medical community continues to shed light on the link between football and CTE, healthcare professionals should do their part to educate patients and families on the physical toll of playing football.

Professional travel nurses can be some of the best spokespeople for this issue. They often treat football players as they travel all over the world, giving them firsthand knowledge of how this disease can impair a person’s cognitive abilities over time. All healthcare providers, including school and travel nurses, have an obligation to inform parents and students of the dangers of playing football. Playing the sport, even for just a few years, can lead to lasting brain damage.

While football continues to be a national phenomenon, everyone should understand the effects of playing the game, so they can make informed decisions regarding their mental and physical health. Students and young athletes shouldn’t feel pressured to participate in a sport that impairs their mental abilities.

As a healthcare provider, celebrate Brain Injury Awareness Month and spread the word about the lasting effects of CTE.

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