Sports Related Head Trauma Terminology

Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) put football (and other contact sports) players at serious risk of illness and death. A few different terms for such injuries are in common use and can be confusing. TBI is the broadest term. Others are Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI), Mild Brain Injury (MBI), and Minor Head Injury (MHI). “Concussion” which has been in use for centuries, is the most common type of MTBI. Suffering one or more concussions puts a football player—at any level of play from the NFL to youth leagues—at risk for developing Second-Impact Syndrome (SIS) or, later in life, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).

Concussion – Several factors make concussions dangerous to football players. One of these is that a concussion can occur even in the absence of physical contact and thus may go unreported or undetected. Either violent acceleration or rapid spinning of the head followed by an abrupt stop can cause a concussion. One concussion puts a player at greater risk of suffering a second concussion, and after several concussions, an incident involving lesser force can cause a concussion. Concussions usually resolve within a few weeks without treatment; but, after an initial concussion, subsequent concussions may take longer to heal. Read about our NFL Concussion Suit.

Second-Impact Syndrome (SIS) – SIS occurs when a person suffers a second concussion before recovering from earlier head trauma. SIS almost always causes permanent disability, and sudden death is possible.

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) – CTE is a progressive, degenerative brain disease which affects people with a history of concussions and/or other traumatic brain injuries. CTE can be diagnosed only through autopsy, and several deceased former NFL players have been discovered to have had CTE, including:

  • Leo Creekmur (Detroit Lions)
  • Dave Duerson (Chicago Bears)
  • John Grimsley (Houston Oilers, Miami Dolphins)
  • Chris Henry (Cincinnati Bengals)
  • Tom McHale (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
  • Terry Long (Pittsburgh Steelers)
  • Andre Waters (Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona Cardinals)
  • Mike Webster (Pittsburgh Steelers) Webster was the first deceased NFL player to be diagnosed with CTE.

Symptoms of CTE include pain, cognitive, neurological and emotional problems. According to an article on the website, the term CTE first appeared in medical literature in 1996. The same article also describes the progress of the disease:

CTE Symptoms
Stage 1
Stage 2
Stage 3
  • Headaches
  • Vertigo
  • Deafness
  • Disorientation, confusion, difficulty concentrating
  • Depression
  • Psychosis
  • Social instability
  • Erratic behavior, lack of impulse control
  • Memory loss
  • Dementia
  • Parkinson’s symptoms, including speech disabilities, gait abnormalities, difficulty swallowing, and drooping eyelids