What is CTE and What You Can Do About It
If you have ever experienced head trauma personally or witnessed someone else having a traumatic brain injury (TBI), you know how serious the effects of the injury can be. But have you ever wondered what happens when someone experiences multiple injuries to their head?
This is where the term chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) comes into play. CTE is brain damage that occurs because of continued or chronic head traumas. CTE can have significant impacts on an individual’s quality of life, but the good news is there are preventative measures that can be taken.
- Symptoms of CTE: Symptoms can vary depending on the extent of the trauma and which areas of the brain are involved. Symptoms may include- memory loss, mood changes, confusion, and difficulty with thinking and speech.
- Who is at risk for CTE: Populations at risk include athletes, military personnel, and people with a history of repeated head injuries.
- Why early intervention in key: Early intervention is key to preventing significant brain damage.
- Preventative measures for CTE: Current preventive measures include limiting the use of a child’s head in youth sports, educational classes and programs, and research.
- How second impact syndrome relates to CTE: It is thought that athletes who sustain a concussion and return to their sport early are at particularly elevated risk.
Let us dive in so that we can better understand the following:
Here is a list of common symptoms that tend to occur with CTE:
- short-term memory loss
- changes in mood – such as frequent mood swings, depression, and feeling increasingly anxious, frustrated, or agitated
- increasing confusion and disorientation
- difficulty thinking and making decisions
- slurred speech or dysarthria
- significant memory problems
- parkinsonism – including tremor, slow movement, and muscle stiffness
- difficulty eating or swallowing (dysphagia)
Who is at Risk for CTE?
While it is common sense that those who are most likely to encounter head trauma consistently are at the greatest risk for developing CTE, what you may not have realized is how high the risk for experiencing multiple head traumas is within certain populations.
Athletes are at particular risk for CTE, especially if they have a history of repetitive mild traumatic brain injuries (i.e., concussions). Those who participate in contact sports like boxing, American football, soccer, and rugby are more likely to be exposed to head trauma consistently.
Another group at risk for diagnosed CTE are military veterans with a history of repeated head traumas. Head trauma occurs most commonly in this population secondary to blast injuries out in the field.
The other group that is important to consider when it comes to CTE are people with a history of repeated head injuries from either being a victim of recurring assault, self-injury, or those who have poorly controlled epilepsy that results in head trauma.
Early Interventions is Key
Early intervention is key to preventing significant brain damage. With correct and quick interventions, we are more likely to be able to prevent long term symptoms. This will help protect brain and body function to reduce the overall impact of the injury.
A good example of someone who did not receive early interventions is NFL player Antonio Brown. Because of his multiple blows to the head, he now experiences increased mood swings, uncharacteristic overreactions, and snappy behavior.
The positive aspect when it comes to CTE is there are measures we can take to prevent it in the first place.
Some of the current preventative measures for CTE are:
- Limiting kids heading the ball in soccer. Youth and high school soccer have put regulations on leagues where you cannot head the ball until you are over 10 years old. More education has been put into place for coaches as well to educate them on proper form with heading to limit concussions.
- Heads up football classes. This is a program that was created for youth football that educates on components such as concussion awareness, heat preparation/hydration, sudden cardiac arrest, equipment fitting, and heads up tackling to improve player safety.
- NFL funding research for CTE. The NFL is contributing around 10 million dollars a year to research CTE.
Second Impact Syndrome and CTE
Another significant risk factor for developing CTE is second impact syndrome. Second impact syndrome (SIS), also known as repetitive head injury syndrome, is a condition in which an individual experiences a second head injury before complete recovery from the initial head injury.
It is thought that athletes who sustain a concussion and return to their sport early are at particularly elevated risk. Therefore, it is essential to educate parents and coaches about how to recognize the signs of concussions and make sure that athletes do not return to play too soon. If second impact syndrome occurs, the athlete will rapidly develop an altered mental status and a loss of consciousness within seconds to minutes of the second hit. This has the potential to result in a catastrophic neurological injury.
Physical Therapists are here to help
An acquired brain injury is scary. Skilled physical therapists are here to make sure you get the care you need quickly and walk alongside you on your journey to recovery. Therapy programs for head injury include assessment and treatment. Cognition, balance, the vestibular system, and the muscle and skeletal systems should all be evaluated.
If you want to optimize your recovery after experiencing head trauma, schedule an appointment with a trained physical therapist who can help guide you back to feeling like your old self again!