Head injuries and concussions resulting from contact sports are frequently in the news. Reports show that every year, college athletes sustain more than 12,500 injuries while participating in NCAA-sponsored sports. Studies indicate that in addition to the physical ramifications of such injuries, there can also be negative psychological consequences, such as depression and anxiety.
To truly understand the effect of concussions, however, it is important to have baseline data collected before the injury for comparison. A team of researchers that included Dr. Corrine Peek-Asa and Dr. James C. Torner from the University of Iowa Injury Prevention Research Center, gathered pre-injury information on depression and anxiety from male and female Division I collegiate athletes at two Big Ten Conference universities. The teams included men’s football, wresting, basketball, and baseball, and women’s basketball, softball, soccer, field hockey, and volleyball from the 2007-08 through the 2011-12 seasons.
The researchers, led by Dr. Jingzhen Yang from the Center for Injury Research and Policy of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, followed participating athletes using the Sports Injury Monitoring System (SIMS), an injury surveillance database. When an injury was reported, athletes completed multiple follow-up surveys until they were cleared to return to play. The investigators analyzed baseline and one-week post injury data for 71 concussions.
About three-quarters of the concussions were sustained by male athletes, and over half involved football players. About one-fifth of concussed athletes reported symptoms of depression post-injury, while one-third said they felt anxious. Only about 14 percent reported both. Interestingly, while those reporting some depression symptoms at baseline were more likely to experience both depression and anxiety following the concussion, those who were anxious beforehand were not more likely to be depressed and anxious post-injury.
The researchers concluded experiencing symptoms of depression before an injury was the strongest predictor of post-concussion depression. They maintain their findings are significant in that they reveal “the need and importance for baseline screening to identify athletes who are at high risk for post-concussion psychological symptoms.” Such screening would also help health professionals identify athletes with newly emerging post-injury symptoms. Results of the study were recently published in the journal Development Neuropsychology.
According to Dr. Yang, “In deciding when a player should return to activity following a head injury, it is important to be able to determine which symptoms are associated with psycho-social factors, and which are associated with damage to the brain cells. This type of research begins to help us understand these two sets of symptoms.”
The research was supported by the University of Iowa Injury Prevention Research Center and funded by grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.