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Study finds CTE risk in collision sports not linked to a player’s position

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Toronto — For athletes who play collision sports, the risk of developing brain disease later in life is not linked to the position they play, results of a recent study out of Canada indicate.

Researchers studied the post-mortem brains of 35 men who were professional or elite-level football or hockey players to look for the presence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy – a neurodegenerative disease associated with repeated blows to the head.

Along with age at retirement, the researchers looked at the length of each athlete’s playing career and position played at the highest level of their sport. For the 11 hockey players, the researchers also took into consideration their fighting history and career penalty minutes.

All of the athletes, who died at an average age of 63, exhibited neurological or neuropsychiatric symptoms ranging from minor mood disorders to severe dementia. Seventeen were diagnosed with CTE. However, the researchers found no association between the position the athletes played and the presence of CTE, nor between hockey fighting or penalty histories and CTE. In addition, no link was found between retirement age and CTE.


“Our results are surprising when you consider previous studies have found upwards of 80% CTE in the brains of football players,” study author Lili-Naz Hazrati, associate professor in the University of Toronto’s department of laboratory medicine and pathobiology, said in a press release. “More research into factors not related to sports, like genetic factors, stress, drugs or alcohol, may help us understand why different athletes have different susceptibilities to CTE.”

The study was published online Feb. 24 in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

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