Skip to main content

Mayo Clinic research finds link between youth sports and brain disease

  • Author:
  • Updated:

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic say they are "surprised" at the rate of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) they found in a recent study of adult men who participated in amateur contact sports in their youth.

Their report, which was published Tuesday, suggests that boys who participate in amateur contact sports such as youth and high school football, hockey and rugby, are at increased risk of developing CTE, a degenerative brain disorder that often leads to memory loss and dementia.

The condition is caused by repeated head trauma, and there's growing evidence of CTE among professional football players, the Rochester Post-Bulletin reports.

'Surprisingly high' rate of CTE

Mayo researchers in Jacksonville, Florida, examined the clinical records of 1,721 people whose brains had been donated to the Mayo Clinic Brain Bank. They found 66 men who had documented participation in contact sports during their youth and teenage years. Of those men, one-third of them had evidence of CTE.

By comparison, none of the 198 brains of people who had not participated in contact sports during their youth showed any sign of CTE. That includes all 66 women who were examined.

CTE only can be diagnosed posthumously, so the study used brains donated for research.

“The 32 percent of CTE we found in our brain bank is surprisingly high" compared to the general population, said the study's lead author Kevin Bieniek in a news release from Mayo. “If one in three individuals who participate in a contact sport goes on to develop CTE pathology, this could present a real challenge down the road."

It's the first study that looks at the incidence of CTE in non-professional athletes in line with criteria recently established by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, according to the news release.

The study's senior author, Dr. Dennis Dickson, calls the findings "groundbreaking."

“The frequency with which [Bieniek] found CTE pathology in former athletes exposed to contact sports was surprising. It is pathology that had gone previously unrecognized," Dickson added.

Other questions raised

This study is just the latest to raise questions about the safety of contact sports for youth and teenagers.

Last month two physicians from the University of Minnesota made headlines when they recommended schools drop their tackle football programs because of the high number of players who get concussions.

The U.S. Soccer Association issued new recommendations last month to limit headers for players younger than 10 years old, the Post-Bulletin notes.

And a new movie coming out soon, called "Concussion," that looks at brain injuries among NFL football players, will no doubt raise more questions about the safety of the game.

The Mayo reseachers said they're not trying to discourage people from participating in sports. But "it is vital that people use caution when it comes to protecting the head," Bieniek said.

The study was published in the December issue of Acta Neuropathalogica.

Next Up

Reader-submitted video taken of people throwing fireworks at people and cars on July 4, 2022.

Watch: Fireworks fired at people, buildings in downtown Minneapolis

Footage shared widely on social media shows chaotic scenes downtown on Fourth of July evening.

Ellie Ragin

Search for missing Elle Ragin shifts to park in Stearns County

Mississippi River County Park is closed to the public until further notice.

storm, severe weather, derecho

Developing derecho likely to blast southwest Minnesota

Damaging winds up to 90 mph are the main threat.

Screen Shot 2022-07-05 at 12.29.03 PM

Two Minneapolis restaurants announce closures

It's the end of the line for Pie & Mighty and Bunny's Bar & Grill.

Grape Jelly

Someone is sending St. Paul resident unsolicited grape jelly

A resident said they received a large number of deliveries containing only jars of jelly.

Braxton Sorenson

Family identifies 15-year-old bicyclist killed by suspected drunk driver

A GoFundMe page has been created to support his family.

McKinley Phillips

Woodbury man sentenced to life for killing wife as her kids watched movie

A jury found McKinley J. Phillips, 40, guilty in less than 24 hours last week in Washington County.

storm, severe

Severe storms in South Dakota could blast into Minnesota Tuesday

Storms are blasting through northern South Dakota Tuesday mid-morning.

Screen Shot 2022-07-05 at 9.19.07 AM

Missing Minnesotan's boat washes ashore on island in middle of Atlantic

Joseph Matthew Johnson has been missing since November.

Boom Island

8 injured as gunfire erupts during July 4th celebrations at Boom Island

"Several" victims are in critical condition, a spokesperson with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board said.

Screen Shot 2022-07-05 at 7.01.29 AM

Fireworks likely cause of garage blaze in Hugo

The fire fortunately didn't spread to the house.

Ellie Ragin

Police obtain 'valuable information' in search for missing 6-year-old Elle Ragin

The 6-year-old is still missing following the death of her mother by suicide.


Mayo Clinic urges ban of body-checking in hockey until age 15

Researchers believe new mandates will lower the risk of concussions.