Football has been linked to CTE, a degenerative disease that causes memory loss and suicidal behavior. Although there is some correlation between physical damage to the brain and symptoms of this disease, researchers have noted that behavioral symptoms can occur without physical changes. Downward stances, for example, decrease the chances of head blows to the head.

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Downward stances reduce head blows

Downward stances in football can be a helpful tool in reducing head impacts. Research shows that football linemen experience fewer head blows when they are starting up. But this study was done on a small sample size, and the findings may not be universal. For example, linemen suffered fewer impacts when they were starting up compared to their less talented counterparts. This is important because head impact can lead to long-term cognitive problems.

The researchers used a standardized practice to assess the impact force of head blows on players. They used a study of 437 head accelerations from 78 players in two practices and an exhibition game. The players with the highest percentages of moderate head accelerations were defensive and offensive linemen. In terms of volume, the researchers found that starting upright reduced moderate head accelerations. The study found that offensive linemen experienced 98 moderate head blows cumulatively, twice as many as defensive linemen. This was also the case for tight ends.

Researchers from Stanford University and Purdue University found that when offensive linemen started a game in a standing position, they sustained 40% fewer head blows. That's a huge reduction, especially since head impacts occur repeatedly and may cause brain damage without concussion.

CTE causes memory loss

While the exact cause of CTE is not yet known, symptoms often develop after repeated head trauma or secondary impact to the head. While there are no known cures for CTE, certain treatments may help with some of the symptoms. In the meantime, researchers are developing biomarkers and PET scans that can identify CTE while the player is still alive.

The study's findings were initially dubbed "dementia pugilistica." Corsellis' 1973 study of 15 retired boxers found that many of these athletes had CTE. Researchers found that the players had a progressive loss of memory, poor impulse control, and aggressiveness. Some of the players developed dementia resembling Alzheimer's disease. Other players showed symptoms similar to those of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a condition that affects the motor neurons.

The Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chris Henry, who died in December 2009, was found to have CTE. His diagnosis was published in a scientific journal three years after his death. Since then, more than 320 former players have been posthumously diagnosed.

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