Athletes who get back into the game after experiencing a concussion take twice as long to recover as athletes who are removed from the game and wait to be evaluated and cleared before returning. In a study of 69 athletes with head trauma who were seen at the Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program it was found that the 35 athletes who were removed from the game took 22 days to recover vs. the 34 who returned to play who took 44 days to recover. These athletes were between 12 and 19 years of age and represented: football, soccer, ice hockey, volleyball, field hockey, basketball, wrestling and rugby. No differences were seen between male and female athletes.
We know that experiencing a concussion increases the likelihood of a second concussion and with each event the risks are increased. Data shows that there are 3.8 million reported sports-related concussions each year. The symptoms can include: dizziness, confusion, nausea and sensitivity to light. It is known that younger athletes are likely to require prolonged recovery and complications from concussion. This group of younger athletes is also exposed to high levels of peer, parental and coach pressure to “get back in the game”. The reported sports-related concussions may be the tip of the iceberg as it is believed that 50-70% of concussions are unreported. The players with unreported concussions who return to the game are at a high risk for complications.
We are the midst of the school sports season and we need to increase the efforts to educate coaches, players and parents about concussions. There are tools for coaches to use to immediately assess players and remove them from play to avoid further injuries. We also have to work with players and their families in the stands that their instinct to jump back into the game is not in their best interest.
The evidence is mounting about the importance of recognizing concussion and preventing multiple concussions. The NFL is beginning to address the issue that players have recognized long before the league accepted the scientific data. The NHL is coming to recognize the complications of concussion in retired hockey players. Both these subjects have been discussed in NeuroNotes and will continue to be important subjects of our blog. We have benefited from athletes like George Visger, retired NFL player, and Ray Ciancaglini, retired boxer, who have contributed to this blog and work to advocate for prevention awareness and effective treatment for concussion. The message is: we need to identify concussive injuries early and prevent the complications.