closeup American Football Player isolated on big modern stadium

Recent Study Suggests Football Players at Greater Risk of Parkinson’s Disease 

24 Aug, 2023 F.J. Thomas

closeup American Football Player isolated on big modern stadium

Sarasota, FL ( –Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (PD) are varied, ranging from tremors, rigid muscles, and slowed movement to speech and writing changes, and impaired balance. One of the hallmarks of PD is the presence of Lewy bodies, which are protein deposits in the brain that effect the thinking, movement, and memory portions of the brain. With symptoms caused by a breakdown of neurons in the brain, the cause of the disease is unknown, however genetic changes, and environmental triggers such as toxins are generally thought to play a role. 

Vascular parkinsonism (VP)” is a condition in which patients have the same type clinical symptoms as PD, but it thought to be caused by cerebrovascular disease. Many physicians consider the condition to be an atypical type of parkinsonism, accounting for around 4 to 12 percent of all PD type cases. 

Several studies, including the Adult Changes in Thought (ACT) study, Religious Orders Study (ROS), and the Memory and Aging Project (MAP) have found an association between traumatic brain injuries (TBI) with loss of consciousness, and parkinsonism symptoms. One study suggested a significant association between TBI with loss of consciousness greater than 1 hour and Lew body pathology. 

Recently researchers from Boston University posed the question of what is the association between playing organized football, due to the potential of TBIs, and the odds of developing parkinsonism or PD. The researchers analyzed data from the Fox Insight, which is an online health study of patients with and without PD. 

Managed by the Michael J. Fox Foundation, the Fox Insight gathers neurological history, motor and non-motor symptoms, quality of life, environmental exposures, and other outcomes. In 2020, Fox Insight began gathering data on exposure to repetitive head impact from contact sports, and also assessed participation in noncontact sports as a collaboration with the Boston University Repetitive Head Impact Exposure Assessment.

A total of 1,875 study participants in the research review supported organized sports in general, and of those 729 participants, 38.9 percent, had played football at some point, with an average of 68.3 years, and 4.3 seasons played. For other sports, Soccer accounted for 23.7 percent, ice hockey accounted for 9.2 percent, amateur wrestling accounted for 6.1 percent, and boxing totaled 4.9 percent. For non-football players, 51.3 percent participated in a non-contact sport, most of which was baseball at 24.1 percent, followed by basketball at 17.8 percent. 

For the football players, most had played as a youth or in high school at 82.4 percent. College players accounted for 16.9 percent, and only 5 players had played semi-professionally or professional. A total of 648 of the football players, equating to 88.9 percent, reported parkinsonism or a PD diagnosis. The researchers noted a longer duration of playing football was associated with higher odds of parkinsonism or PD diagnosis.

The researchers contend that while limited, the study represents the largest study to review the association between participation in football and odds of having PD or parkinsonism. They believe the findings support the need for objective evaluation of the association between football and the potential for developing PD or developing parkinsonism.

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    About The Author

    • F.J. Thomas

      F.J. Thomas has worked in healthcare business for more than fifteen years in Tennessee. Her experience as a contract appeals analyst has given her an intimate grasp of the inner workings of both the provider and insurance world. Knowing first hand that the industry is constantly changing, she strives to find resources and information you can use.

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