An all-inclusive guide for athletes suffering from CTE
after experiencing multiple concussions
Injury attorney Thomas Holder discusses workers’ compensation
for professional athletes
Recently, there’s been an increased awareness of the risks of chronic brain injuries incurred by athletes who play contact sports. This awareness has been fostered significantly by research by Boston University and others focused on concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Their research has confirmed the linkage between CTE and multiple concussions commonly experienced by professional football players whose careers extend over many years.
What is CTE?
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative form of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Unlike most TBIs, CTE develops over time and after repetitive trauma events.
CTE is a neuropsychiatric disorder that was first identified in 1928 by pathologist Harrison Martland in the course of a routine autopsy. It was linked to a condition common among boxers called “punch-drunk syndrome.”
Since then, it’s been determined that the risk of developing this condition is increased by sustained brain injury and trauma. Multiple concussions are typically suffered by boxers and other athletes who play contact sports (particularly football players) from repeated blows to the head. Also, military veterans have a greater than normal risk of CTE because of their proximity to concussive events.
The neuropathological process leading to CTE is complex. Repeated blows to the head set off a chemical response in the brain that causes a protein called “tau” to malfunction. That malfunctioning protein slowly spreads throughout the brain, forming neurofibrillary tangles and killing brain cells along the way.
A brain bleed injury is a specific type of TBI. Simply put, it involves bleeding that happens inside the skull. If you suffer a brain bleed at work in Georgia, learn how to get maximum workers’ compensation benefits.
What happens with a concussion?
A concussion is a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that results from a blow to the head or body that makes the head move back and forth quickly, causing the brain to smash against the walls inside the skull.
This trauma sets off chemical changes in the brain leading to a malfunctioning protein, which, in its normal state, is essential for a healthy brain.
It should be noted that even the most advanced helmet technology will not completely eliminate the risk of concussion injuries. A blow to the head protected by a helmet does not stop the brain from banging around inside the skull, which ultimately causes brain trauma.
How is CTE diagnosed?
Unfortunately, CTE cannot be diagnosed while a person is alive. The tau tangles can only be seen microscopically in stained brain samples during an autopsy.
Boston University is renowned for its definitive research on CTE. Numerous deceased NFL players who suffered from apparent CTE symptoms have donated their brains to the university for analysis.
Although CTE cannot be confirmed before death, a presumptive diagnosis can be based on symptoms and neurological exams. Also, a patient’s history of head injuries provides evidence. Lab and imaging tests will not diagnose CTE, but some can rule out other causes of CTE symptoms.
What are the symptoms of CTE?
According to Mayo Clinic, no specific symptoms have been inextricably linked to CTE. Some of the symptoms are also symptoms of other conditions. Among those cases of proven CTE, the main symptoms have included cognitive, behavioral, mood and motor changes.
Cognitive impairment includes:
- Thinking difficulty
- Memory loss
- Difficulty with planning, organizing and carrying out tasks
Behavioral changes include:
- Impulsive conduct
- Aggressive behavior
Mood disorders include:
- Emotional instability
- Substance abuse
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
Motor symptoms include:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Motor neuron disease
CTE usually takes years to develop after multiple concussions or head trauma. When it does develop, it takes different forms depending on the subject’s age:
- Between the late 20s and early 30s, CTE may cause mental health and behavioral patterns, including depression, anxiety, impulsivity and aggression.
- After 60, the symptoms are more likely to include memory and thinking problems that might develop into dementia.
Is there treatment for CTE?
There is no cure for CTE once it has progressed. The best treatment is simply to avoid further trauma. Repetitive concussions increase the risk and/or development of CTE with each repeated traumatic event.
Abnormalities continue to be seen up to 5 weeks after a concussion. Therefore, at least a month may be required before safely returning to play. An earlier return poses an increased likelihood of a repeat concussion.
Georgia workers’ compensation benefits
All states have a workers’ compensation system that compensates workers injured on the job. It’s important to note that only employees are covered—independent contractors are not.
Workers’ compensation benefits include the following:
- Payment for medical care
- Payment of two-thirds of the worker’s average wages for a duration depending on the extent of their disability
- Death benefits
There are special issues relating to CTE. Georgia’s system, like other states, covers employees who suffer injury or illness occurring while they’re performing their assigned duties.
We know that CTE is often caused by repetitive concussions or other brain trauma. We also know that CTE cannot be confirmed until the subject dies, so linking CTE to an on-the-job event can be difficult.
Furthermore, workers’ comp only covers employees. Many athletes are not professional athletes but amateurs who are considered independent contractors and are not eligible for workers’ comp benefits.
Are you a professional athlete who’s been injured on the job? Learn if you qualify for workers’ comp benefits in Georgia.
The NFL’s response to CTE
In 2013, the NFL settled a lawsuit by former NFL players who suffered repetitive concussions for $750,000. The plaintiffs included the family of Junior Seau, who suffered several CTE symptoms before committing suicide. His autopsy showed evidence of CTE.
The NFL has also responded with more stringent protocols for dealing with concussions.
Contact a Georgia workers’ compensation attorney
The recent heightened awareness of the long-term suffering from head injuries is necessary for improved safety for athletes. Hopefully, amateur athletic programs in colleges and high schools will follow suit.
Those who are reading this are encouraged to learn more about CTE and pressure their local high schools to adopt protocols for protecting their youth.
If you’re an athlete or other worker who believes you’re suffering from symptoms of CTE or any other work-related injury or illness, contact the experienced workers’ compensation attorneys at Gerber & Holder Workers’ Compensation Attorneys. We have over 75 years of combined experience helping injured workers across Georgia recover compensation after an injury.