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In Sports

This condition was recognised in boxers some decades ago, historically being referred to as ‘punch-drunk syndrome’ (Buckland, 2019).

Recently a significant correlation between CTE and American football has become evident, with symptoms such as memory disturbances and signs of depression.

In Australia, cases are now being identified in players from professional sports such as Rugby, NRL and AFL.

This condition has also been found in war veterans who have experienced repeated, mild head traumas. CTE can occur at any age and can present years after the repetitive contact stops.

The effects of CTE can include:

  • Difficulties with balance and motor skills
  • Depression
  • Disturbances to memory
  • Staggered gait
  • Psychotic symptoms
  • Significant behavioral changes such as aggression or depression
  • Initial symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (Mckee et al. 2010)

Risk Factors & Diagnosis

It is currently understood that the only risk factor for CTE is repeated, traumatic brain injury (Buckland, 2019), and many repetitive knocks over a number of years – even ones that don’t result in obvious concussion – puts players at a higher risk.

There are still gaps in the research . At the moment, a confirmed diagnosis can only be made at autopsy, as brain tissue samples are required (Concussion Foundation, 2020). However, as imaging and other testing technologies improve, it is hoped that other methods of diagnosing the condition will be developed.


Buckland, M.E., Sy, J., Szentmariay, I. et al. (2019), Chronic traumatic encephalopathy in two former Australian National Rugby League players. Acta Neuropathol Commun 7(97),

McKee, A. C., Cantu, R. C., Nowinski, C. J., Hedley-Whyte, E.T., Gavett, B.E., Budson, A.E., Santini, V.E., Lee, H-S., Kubilus C.A., and Stern, R. A.,et al. (2010). Chronic traumatic encephalopathy in athletes: progressive tauopathy following repetitive head injury. Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology, 68(7), 709-735, doi: 10.1097/NEN.0b013e3181a9d503

Concussion Legacy Foundation, (n.d), CTE Resources, retrieved 18 November,

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