The NFL has had no shortage of news headlines recently, but not all of them have been positive. Many of the most recent media stories pertaining to the National Football League are placing intense pressure on the NFL to make changes that will prevent players from suffering such extensive brain damage. Florida researchers recently uncovered that a whopping 40 percent of retired NFL players had brain injuries, a statistic that has added heat to an already controversial situation.

The Study

According to the study author Francis X. Conidi, MD, DO, of the Florida Center for Headache and Sports Neurology and Florida State University College of Medicine, this study is one of the most comprehensive to examine living retired NFL players. The goal of the study was to compare the rate of traumatic brain injury in football players to the general population in order to determine how much risk professional football players face in their careers.

To collect data, Dr. Conidi and her researchers completed sensitive MRI scans and memory and thinking tests on 40 retired NFL players. The players ranged in age from 27 to 56, though most had only been retired from the NFL for less than five years. They averaged seven years of playing in the NFL with an average of 8 diagnosed concussions.

The Results

The frightening results demonstrated with a less than one percent error rate that 43% percent of the players in the study demonstrated significant damage to the brain’s white matter, an indication of traumatic brain injury. Thirty percent of the players also exhibited damage in the section of the brain that is responsible for cells transmitting messages to each other. This could explain why nearly half of the players significantly struggled on the executive functions, memory, and concentration portions of the thinking skills test.

The Bottom Line

Every additional year of playing puts NFL players at higher risk of sustaining a TBI, and an average of 40 percent of all retired players currently suffer from a brain injury that needs medical attention.