Cause of CTE: Is it Hits to the Head or Concussions?

It became conventional wisdom that concussions were the major cause for CTE. The focus became the major hits that athletes were taking in sports such as football. Experts feared too many of those major concussions is what developed into CTE.

But new research has flipped that hypothesis around. It may be hits to the head that lead to CTE, not major concussions.

Concussions are Irrelevant to Triggering CTE

The major concussions that athletes suffer while playing may not be what is causing them to develop the condition known as CTE. Much has been made about CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, in the past few years. It has gained national and international attention, with many former NFL players posthumously diagnosed with the condition.

Now doctors have gone a step further. Not only can they diagnose CTE in someone when they have access to their brain, but they are better able to understand what is causing the condition. And the results have surprised a lot of people.

It was a common thought among experts and casual observers that a concussion is what led to NFL players suffering from CTE. The hypothesis centered around the fact that many of these NFL players suffered multiple concussions throughout their career. And that buildup of concussions led to CTE.

But it appears that doctors are suggesting concussions are not relevant to the development of CTE. It is what an associate professor from Boston University, who is a co-author of a study on CTE, believes.

Hits to the Head Matter the Most

The study conducted by Boston University researchers looked at the brains of teenagers who suffered head injuries. Mice were used as testers to recreate the head trauma those teenagers experienced. Their research led to the conclusion that CTE does not have anything to do with concussions.

And it explains something that had perplexed some experts before; why many of the players diagnosed with CTE after their death had never been diagnosed for a concussion.

At the time, this information was used as fuel against the diagnosis of CTE. If someone had never suffered a concussion, how could CTE be linked to the NFL? Now it all fits. Players who suffer hits to the head are at a greater risk for developing CTE, not those who necessarily suffer concussions.

The Risk Goes Beyond the NFL

The new information not only tells us more about how CTE can develop in a person, but it also means the risk goes far beyond the NFL. It is an issue for amateur athletes, such as those who play football in high school and college. Repeat hits to the head begin at a very early age for football players, which means someone could have CTE without even making it to the NFL.

And it also means that certain professions, where hits to the head are common, may be risky. Sports such as soccer may also have issues to resolve, where players are regularly heading the ball that comes towards them at great power.