Brain trauma: Contact sports increases risk of ‘terrible disease’ by 68 times – symptoms

Steve Thompson recalls signs of his early-onset dementia

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The research was conducted by an international team of experts, one calling for further action to be taken preventing CTE, especially for children.

Analysis for the study was provided by the Concussion Legacy Foundation UK.

The authors concluded that contact sport athletes, such as American Football and rugby players, were 68 times more likely to develop CTE than those who didn’t.

This is seismic; although CTE is accepted as a condition of threat; it is still comparatively new.

Lead author Dr Christopher Nowinski said: “This innovative analysis gives us the highest scientific confidence that repeated head impacts cause CTE.

“Sport governing bodies should acknowledge that head impacts cause CTE and they should not mislead the public on CTE causation while athletes die, and families are destroyed, by this terrible disease.”

Meanwhile, Oxford Brooke’s Dr Adam White said it was “time to include repetitive head impacts and CTE among other child safety efforts like smoking, sunburns, and alcohol”.

White, executive direct of the Concussion Legacy Foundation UK, added: “Repetitive head impacts and CTE deserve recognition in the global public health discussion of preventable disorders caused by childhood exposure in contact sports like football, rugby, ice hockey and others.”

Symptoms of CTE include

  • Short-term memory loss
  • Changes in mood
  • Increasing confusion and disorientation
  • Difficulty thinking
  • Slurred speech
  • Significant memory problems
  • Parkinsonism
  • Difficulty swallowing or eating.

The publication of this research comes at a crucial time for one of England’s most popular sports, rugby, as a group of players issue legal action against the sport’s authorities.


The players, all of whom have irreversible neurological impairments such as dementia are taking World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union, and the Welsh Rugby Union to court.

They argue the sport’s governing bodies were negligent as they failed to protect players from permanent injury caused by repetitive blows to the head.

A pre-action letter was first published by the group in December 2020.

The action comes as the Rugby Union has been told it must change to protect its players otherwise the sport will die in the UK.

Richard Boardman of Rylands Law, the firm supporting the players said: “For this great sport to continue for another 100 years plus, we have to accept that the brain is a delicate organ which needs heightened protection, and as a sport we have to err on the side of caution.

“Otherwise all brains, no matter what level you play at, are going to be impacted.”

Rylands represents more than 185 Rugby Union players affected; all of the players are aged between their 30s and 50s.

Among them one of the most prominent is Steve Thompson, who won the Rugby World Cup with England in 2003.

Thompson was recently diagnosed with early-onset dementia, a condition more often found in people much older.

The legal action comes after the FA announced they would trial the banning of heading in the u-12 game.

In a statement released earlier this month before the CTE research was released, the FA said: “It represents a caution approach to playing and enjoying football whilst ongoing research continues in this area.”

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