Young men and women in high school athletics are becoming increasingly aware of the signs and risks of concussion, but a new study shows the male athletes are significantly less likely to tell anyone when one happens.
The report shows that male athletes still share a “show-no-weakness” mentality that could be putting them at higher risk for more severe injuries and long-term symptoms.
“Males are more worried about what their peers or coaches would think of them if they reported [their concussion],” explained Jessica Wallace, the lead author of the study and director of the master of athletic training program at Youngstown State University in Ohio.
“It’s a mentality of, ‘If I report this, I’m going to be perceived as weak,'” said Wallace, who’s also a member of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association. “We suspected some differences between males and females at the high school level, but were probably surprised by the magnitude.”
To examine the difference in concussion reporting in both sexes, Wallace’s team surveyed close to 300 athletes from three Michigan high schools with football, wrestling, volleyball, basketball, or soccer programs. The vast majority of the athletes claimed to have never had a concussion in their life, while 33 reported experiencing one. Additionally, 25 athletes said they had suffered two or more concussions.
The male and female athletes shared similar levels of knowledge about concussion symptoms, but the team discovered boys were between four and 11 times less likely to report a concussion compared to girls.
When asked why they might not tell adults, the teens said they feared angering their coach, making their teammates or coach think they were weak, and upsetting their parents. Additionally, the male athletes were more likely to say they hid a concussion because they didn’t want to miss a game in the season.
While these answers show a widespread belief that it was more important to play through an injury than show weakness, the most common reason athletes of both sexes hid concussions was that they didn’t believe it was serious enough to merit reporting.
“Sometimes concussion symptoms can be elusive… and [young athletes] think it’s not a big deal, that it’s going to go away,” Wallace said. “It could just be a true lack of understanding of the signs and symptoms, and then brushing it off.”
This misconception is potentially more dangerous than any other reason for hiding an injury because repeated head injuries of any kind have been linked to long-term brain damage – including the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Not reporting a concussion is also linked to slower recovery and worse symptoms.
To address this, Wallace recommends using a “buddy system” in high school sports organization.
“Often, athletes will not report their own concussion, but they will be mindful and protective of their teammates,” she said. “So, the ‘buddy system’ would help me as the athletic trainer because the athletes would come and tell me if they thought their teammate/friend was experiencing a concussion or concussion symptoms.”