Are contact sports related to brain damage and memory loss?






Contact sports and the relationship to brain damage and memory loss













While human beings spend time in productive economic activities, the adage saying goes that work with no play makes Jack a dull boy. As such people also spare some time for recreation so as to refresh their minds and bodies either through participation in the recreation activities or cheering the participants. Recreation activities such as traveling and picnicking, sporting, activities have been integral components of the American culture (Saffary, Chin & Cantu, 2012). There are different types of sports ranging from the indoor to outdoor games, athletics, skiing, motor racing, to medicinal sports such as yoga. Sports have taken a commercial outlook where people engage in sports as full-time careers. According to Hodapp (2016), some of the contact sports in the United States include boxing, wrestling, hockey, rugby and American football. They are very popular, and various bodies such as the NFL are charged with the duty of managing the respective sports. These institutions enforce the rules so as to ensure fair play and also safeguard the safety of players. Nevertheless, contact sports are the leading causes of injuries that further lead to brain damage and memory loss. This essay argues that contact sports are directly correlated to brain damage and memory loss.

Contact sports and the relationship to brain damage and memory loss

Contact sports are the leading cause of mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) commonly referred to as a concussion. Concussions are mild injuries and can result even where there are no physical injuries visible on the light microscopy. Concussions are characterized by temporary or prolonged loss of consciousness. Concussion refers to the transient impairment of brain functions and occurs when the body is subjected to an external force (Nagahiro & Mizobuchi, 2014). The authors argue that concussions happen when the brain is shaken due to external injuries, and are common in sports such as American football, judo, and boxing. Concussions disrupt the supply-demand balance of the energy metabolism leading to abnormal brain glucose metabolism. During concussions, the brain’s response speed and other neurological functions are impaired. Since repeated injuries result in prolonged recovery times, it is mandatory that victims abstain from any sporting activities after a concussion (Slobounov & Sebastianelli, 2006). Concussions are common in most contact sports are on the rise as the games become more attractive, For example, in the United States alone, an estimate of up to 3.8 million people suffer concussions every year (Nagahiro & Mizobuchi, 2014). The authors observe that the incidences are particularly high in sports such as basketball, American football, ice hockey as well as boxing and soccer. Repeated injuries are dangerous since the victims take longer to recover and may suffer severe brain impairment leading to memory loss.

Apart from the MBTI, head injuries from contact sports also cause an acute subdural hematoma (ASDH). Nagahiro & Mizobuchi (2014) argue that ASDH is an injury of concern as it is a leading cause of death in different contact sports such as American football, snowboarding, judo, and boxing. The authors single out American football where the highest numbers of catastrophic brain injuries have been reported. For instance, 90 percent of the injuries reported between 1998 and 2002 were ASDH while over 95 percent of footballers with catastrophic head injuries were either aged 18 or below (Boden, Tacchetti, Cantu, Knowles & Meller, 2007). Similar data collected in Japan from 1998 to 2011 shows that most of the fatal cases of head injury were attributed to contact sports. Specifically, judo was the leading cause followed by rugby and boxing in that order. According to Nagahiro & Mizobuchi (2014), most of the Japanese athletes filing insurance claims had ASDH resulting from injuries to the occipital head. The authors report that most of the injuries were reported on novice players who had not fully developed their physical power. They also report that most of the victims did not portray sufficient mastery of the Ukemi, a protection technique that players apply after they have been thrown. Brain injuries resulting from contact sports have also been reported in boxing where 75 percent of injuries are ASDH.

The rising popularity of sports is also accompanied by increases in sports-related injuries. According to Saffary, Chin & Cantu (2012), an estimate of 10 percent of head and spinal cord injuries result from contact sports. Over the years, various stakeholders have recognized the magnitude of the problem and agencies to create awareness have been set up. The “Heads Up: Concussion in Youth Sports” is a CDC run program developed to raise awareness. The program targets all stakeholders including sportspeople, coaches, parents and medical professionals and the corresponding information they need to know regarding sport-related injuries. For example, sportsmen need to know how to reduce the magnitude or prevent injuries while medical professionals need to diagnose correctly and treat injuries. Coaches need to know the risks of re-engaging players when the players have not made a full recovery from previous injuries.

The relationship between contact sports and brain damage can also be deduced from the investigations brains donated by former sportsmen. According to Hodapp (2016), researchers found that close to 80 percent of individuals who experienced recurring hits to the head showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (ECP). These result from slow destruction of brain cells consequently leading to attention loss and memory impairment (Ling, Hardy & Zetterberg, 2015). On their part, Nagahiro & Mizobuchi (2014) argue that out of the sportsmen filing insurance claims for brain damage in Japan, 30 percent are former judo players. This correlates with the situation in the United States where football players file suits against the NFL for the alleged hiding of information on head injuries and mental problems.

While there is enough evidence that contact sports directly contribute to the rising cases of brain damage and memory loss, critics argue that the problems cannot be attributed solely to contact sports. They argue that players are also to blame for being too greedy. Besides, the players earn lots of money annually that can compensate the risk of permanent brain damage. Players often return to play to make more money even when they know that they have not made a full recovery. Coaches are also to blame for engaging players while knowing that they ought to be on medical rest. There are arguments that although helmets help reduce skull fractures, they do not prevent concussion (Saffary, Chin & Cantu, 2012). Thus, players who play rough because they have helmets predispose themselves to brain injuries and blame it on the sport. Whether this might be the case, the bottom line is that players suffer injuries that cause brain damage and memory loss.


Sports are part of the culture of the American society. Contact sports such as American football, wrestling, rugby have been linked to brain injuries, consequently leading to brain damage and memory loss. Although critics shift the blame elsewhere, contact sports are the leading cause of mild traumatic brain injury, also referred to as concussions. These are impairments of brain functions resulting from head injuries. In the US, up to 3.8 people suffer concussion annually, and the incidences are high in sports such as American football, ice hockey, and boxing. Contact sports also cause an acute subdural hematoma (ASDH) that lead to catastrophic brain injuries, even leading to deaths. In the US, these injuries are high American football, snowboarding, and boxing while in Japan, they are high in judo, rugby, and boxing. As the sports become popular, the injuries also keep on rising. As at 2012, over 10 percent of head and spinal injuries resulted from contact sports. The alarming figures have necessitated action to inform stakeholders such as players, coaches, and medical personnel on how to prevent and accurately diagnose brain injuries. Brain injuries cause a slow destruction of brain cells thus leading to attention loss and memory impairment. Although critics blame greed on the part of sportsmen and coaches, the bottom line is players suffer brain injuries that could not have happened without the sport. Severe brain injuries cause brain damage and memory loss.


Boden, B.P., Tacchetti, R.L., Cantu, R.C., Knowles, S.B., & Meller, F.O. (2007). Catastrophic head injuries in high school and college football players. The American Journal of Sports Medicine 35(7): 1075-1081.

Hodapp, P. (2016). Brain damage and memory loss tied to contact sports. Retrieved 9th January 2016, from,

Ling, H., Hardy, J., & Zetterberg, H. (2015). Neurological consequences of traumatic brain injuries in sports. Molecular and Cellular Neurosciences 66(Pt B): 114-122.

Nagahiro, S., & Mizobuchi, Y. (2014). Current Topics in Sports-related Head Injuries: A Review. Neurologia Medico-Chirurgica 54(11): 878-886.

Saffary, R., Chin, L.S., & Cantu, R.C. (2012). Sports Medicine: Concussions in Sports. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine 6(2): 133-140.

Slobounov, S.M., & Sebastianelli, W.J. (2006). Foundations of sport-related brain injuries. New York: Springer.


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