Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) & Migraine

My son is a Migraineur and a high school athlete who has had a relatively safe athletic career; no concussions or traumatic brain injury that we are aware of.

He’s been active since he was a little boy and began to train for his black belt in Tae Kwon Do (TDK) when he was just five years old. He went on to play basketball and baseball for a few years and now he throws shot put and discus in addition to playing football on his high school teams. Although luck has been on his side regarding concussion, what concerns me are the repetitive sub-concussive blows my son has taken and will continue to take.

We know what a concussion is, but what exactly is a sub-concussive blow? These are hits just under the amount of force necessary to cause a concussion.² There has been some discussion regarding repeated sub-concussive blows, and the potential for long-term changes in the brain.³ In fact, I just finished watching “Big Hit, Broken Dreams” with Dr. Sanja Gupta on CNN and he reported that a high school football player will take an average of 650 sub-concussive hits a season. I’m quite certain my son has had a few of these hits, but won’t admit it. For example, while training for his black belt in TKD, students learned how to spar using their hands and feet to strike their opponent with light blows. Wearing protective head gear, gloves and chest protectors, they “sparred” one another with strict guidelines.

Light head contact meant they could strike their opponents head as if it was surrounded by a bubble and couldn’t be broken.TKD is about self control; controlling your movements and avoiding fights, which meant sparring was not a free for all, rather, an athletic competition. For years, I watched my son spar, taking and giving these “light” blows to the head, watching his head snap back and forth trying to avoid being on the receiving end of someone’s glove. Now I realize this was eight years of potential sub concussive hits.

I never wanted my son to play football and thought I was in the clear by the time he started eight grade. Little did I know what the power of a few words from a trusted teacher would have on my then 13 year old boy.”Have you looked in the mirror, you’re made to play football.” With these few words, my son was hooked. Players are no longer allowed to use their heads as a battering ram to block or tackle their “man.” Instead, they are instructed to keep their “chin up.” When these young athletes run at each other full force, slamming into one another, how can their heads not be getting jarred back and forth?

As new research comes out regarding repetitive sub-concussive hits and concussion, where does this information leave us? My mommy senses are tingling! I think down the road we may see adults with serious health issues if they played contact sports as a youngster. We know if they suffered multiple concussions they may be at risk for developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) ⁴ and other degenerative diseases. In addition, if an athlete or anyone else for that matter, has Migraine disease, recovery from a concussion may take longer.

It’s bad enough that I worry about the pain Migraine disease causes my children. Am I now to worry about my son’s neurological health due to a sport he loves, for the rest of my life? What do you do, as parents to keep the worry in check? I’d love to hear from you.

References: 1. The Second Impact.” Glossary”. January 21, 2012 http://www.thesecondimpact.com/Glossary.html- 2. McDevitt, Jane. “Cumulative Head Impact Burden in High School Football.” Sports Medicine Research: In The Lab and In The Field. August, 23, 2011. http://sportsmedresearch.blogspot.com/2011/08/cumulative-head-impact-burden-in-high.html – 3. Sports Legacy Institute. CTE & Concussions. “Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.” January 22, 2012. http://www.sportslegacy.org/cte-concussions/what-is-cte/-

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