CTE Meaning: Here’s What it Means and How to Use It

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If you’re an athlete and you have not heard about CTE, you need to keep reading. CTE is one of the more dangerous threats that an athlete can face, with potential lifelong consequences. Because it’s so serious, it’s incredibly important that you understand this word as best as you can so you know to look out for it. 

Today’s word of the day is CTE. To help you learn more about it, we’ve come up with a guide to the word CTE, complete with definitions, its origin, examples in context, more. Let’s get started. 

The Definition of CTE 

CTE is an acronym that stands for chronic traumatic encephalopathy. It’s a type of injury that your brain can sustain under particular circumstances.

Essentially, CTE, also called dementia pugilistica, is a degenerative brain condition that is caused by repeated head traumas over a long period of time. However, the head traumas required to contribute to CTE don’t have to be concussions. In fact, they are likely subconcussive impacts. CTE comes about through hundreds or thousands of instances of light brain trauma over the course of several years. So big risk factors are sports like football or boxing where athletes sustain this type of traumatic brain injury regularly.

These repeated injuries cause malfunctions in proteins called tau proteins. These proteins get improperly folded and they malfunction. The malfunctioning tau proteins end up slowly spreading throughout the brain, creating buildup and leading to the destruction of brain cells. 

Although this has particularly become a problem in contact sports like football players, boxers, wrestlers, hockey players, even soccer players and military veterans can experience it. Even if the players wear helmets to protect their heads, they can still sustain small concussions that could contribute to CTE. 

Symptoms of CTE are accompanied with the atrophy of the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. CTE can lead to changes in your mood and personality, but it can also lead to more serious conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, parkinson’s disease, and more.

History of CTE 

The effects of CTE were first observed in 1928 by Dr. Harrison Martland. He described boxer’s as having what he called “punch drunk syndrome.” The first known use of the term “chronic traumatic encephalopathy” was in 1957, but very few cases were confirmed throughout the 20th century. Not much was known about CTE, so the usage of this word was fairly uncommon. 

Then in 2005, a scientist named Bennet Omalu conducted a study on NFL player Mike Webster that showed evidence of CTE. Because of this evidence, research and discussion about CTE began to grow. Dr. Chris Nowinski partnered with Boston University to create the world’s first brain bank. Dr. Ann McKee, the head of this VA-BU-CLF brain bank, is responsible for most of the research that has shed light on what CTE is and how it affects the brain. 

Unfortunately, much work still needs to be done. Currently, a diagnosis is only possible postmortem, unless the patient has incredibly high-risk exposure. Because of this, it’s virtually impossible to know what percentage of the population is affected by CTE. In addition, there is no known cure for CTE. The current research taking place today centers around finding biomarkers that can help lead to a diagnosis. 

Examples of the Word CTE In Context

Here are some examples of the word CTE being used. 

  • “Because of the risk of CTE, concussion protocols have become much more strict, especially for American football players.”
  • “After retiring from football, I’ve developed memory problems and mood swings. Do you think I may have CTE?”
  • “Her work at the research institute for CTE has led to more discoveries about its neurodegenerative effects.”

Precautions Against CTE

We now know that CTE has a wide variety of potential symptoms, including cognitive impairment, behavioral changes, mood disorders, motor symptoms, and potential degenerative brain disease.

Because of the risks that CTE poses to military personnel, professional football players, and even high school athletes, there have been a lot more protocols put in place to protect people. Specifically, in the sport of football, players are now prohibited from tackling an opponent using head to head contact. This incredibly dangerous maneuver now brings a penalty to the team and can even lead to the guilty player getting fined. 

In youth sports, precautions have also been taken to prevent head injuries. More schools, districts, and states are requiring athletic trainers to be present at games to evaluate players who suffer a head trauma during a game. Up to 50% of concussions are not reported. Unreported concussions can lead to worse injuries and more brain tissue damage. Athletic trainers evaluate potential concussions and determine whether a player can return to play or not. 

These protocols can help to prevent brain injuries. Scientists, coaches, players, and parents are realizing the risks that sports pose to brain health and taking steps to keep players safe.

CTE In Pop Culture

CTE hasn’t just been a hot topic of discussion amongst coaches, doctors, and professional athletes. It’s also been a topic of discussion in Hollywood and beyond. In 2015, a film called Concussion was released, following the story of Bennet Omalu, the doctor who conducted the study on Mike Webster, which led to widespread acceptance of and discussion of CTE. Omalu was played by Will Smith in the film, and the movie prompted even further discussion about concussion protocols and the importance of protecting the safety of athletes, particularly in the sport of football. 


Now you know everything you need to know about the word CTE to use it effectively in your writing and your conversation. If you need a refresher on the word, come back to this article to remind yourself of this important information.


Chronic traumatic encephalopathy | Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic

Concussion Protocol | Youth Sports Safety 

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy | NHS