New Found Studies Linking Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) to Athletic-Related Head Injuries

Throughout the recent media surrounding professional and collegiate football, there have been numerous controversies concerning the potential for athletically-related head injuries to cause serious brain damage and other medical problems later in life. These reported occurrences headline sports media and spark interest in Sports Medicine professionals, including Athletic Trainers to be more educated and aware of the potential for long-term brain damage in athletes suffering concussions during collegiate and professional play.

The article, "TDP-43 Proteinopathy and Motor Neuron Disease in Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy" in the Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology provides evidence for a new link between repetitive athletic head injuries and the formation of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS. ALS is a chronic, progressive disease characterized by degeneration of motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord. The article lists some environmental risk factors thought to be the cause of ALS, and athletic-related risk factors including history of trauma to the brain and spinal cord, history of participation in varsity athletics, and a slim physique, and strenuous physical activity (McKee, et al 2010). Various studies cited in the article state that there is an increased risk of ALS when the latest head injury suffered occurred at an older age, or there were a small number of years between the last head injury and diagnosis of ALS. Sports included in the study were sports of most contact including football, soccer, and boxing. Although the diagnosis of ALS occurs in the later years of life, there is still a greater risk for athletes with repetitive head injuries to be diagnosed with ALS and therefore severe damage to the brain and spinal cord, resulting in death.

To read the entire article on the relationship between athletic head injuries and ALS, click here.