Initially, interest in sport-related concussion arose from the premise that the study of athletes engaged in sports associated with high rates of concussion could provide insight into the mechanisms, phenomenology, and recovery from mild traumatic brain injury. Over the last decade, concerns have focused on the possibility that, for some athletes, repetitive concussions may raise the long-term risk for cognitive decline, neurobehavioral changes, and neurodegenerative disease. First conceptualized as a discrete event with variable recovery trajectories, concussion is now viewed by some as a trigger of neurobiological events that may influence neurobehavioral function over the course of the life span. Furthermore, advances in technology now permit us to gain a detailed understanding of the frequency and intensity of repetitive head impacts associated with contact sports (eg, football, ice hockey). Helmet-based sensors can be used to characterize the kinematic features of concussive impacts, as well as the profiles of typical head-impact exposures experienced by athletes in routine sport participation. Many large-magnitude impacts are not associated with diagnosed concussions, whereas many diagnosed concussions are associated with more modest impacts. Therefore, a full understanding of this topic requires attention to not only the effects of repetitive concussions but also overall exposure to repetitive head impacts. This article is a review of the current state of the science on the long-term neurocognitive and neurobehavioral effects of repetitive concussion and head-impact exposure in contact sports.
Keywords: neurodegeneration; recovery; symptom reporting; traumatic brain injuries.