In the warrior ethos that permeates sports, athletes sometimes shake off injuries and stay in the game. It’s considered a measure of toughness. It also is the worst step a concussed athlete can take, according to University of Florida researchers who have found that immediately getting medical care reduces concussion symptoms and ultimately gets the player back in action sooner.
An analysis of 506 sports-related concussions among college athletes in 18 sports found that those who ceased their activities once they were injured missed about three fewer days of competition than those who delayed reporting their injuries.
Prompt reporting also reduced concussion symptoms by two days and decreased the likelihood of missing more than two weeks of sport participation by 39 percent. The findings were published in The American Journal of Sports Medicine.
“It’s important to recognize and report concussion-related symptoms immediately. The faster you allow a medical team to make a diagnosis, the better your chances for a shorter recovery,” said Mr. Breton M. Asken, a doctoral student in the clinical and health psychology department in the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions and lead author of the paper.
The UF team analyzed concussion data from August 2014 to September 2016 among athletes at 25 universities and military service academies involved in the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the Department of Defense’s Concussion Assessment, Research and Education, or CARE, Consortium. After controlling for other factors in a statistical model, they found that lost competition time and the duration of concussion symptoms were directly related to when athletes stopped their activity.
While current guidelines call for athletes who suspect they have a concussion to immediately stop playing and get an evaluation, this and other studies have shown that as many as 60 percent of them don’t disclose their injury or stop playing right away, for a multitude of reasons.
The findings make clear that athletes who “tough it out” are actually delaying their recoveries, said Dr. James R. Clugston, a UF associate professor of medicine and UF Athletic Association team physician.
“We’ve always had concerns about athletes hiding concussion symptoms. This gives athletes greater incentive to be more frank in letting the sports medicine staff know that there may be something wrong. The sooner you tell us about concussion symptoms, the sooner you get back to your sport,” he said.