Taking a concussed athlete out of the game doesn’t just protect them from a more dangerous secondary brain injury. A new study says it can also reduce an athlete’s recovery time.
The findings published in the journal Pediatrics show that high school athletes who immediately stop playing after a brain injury recover almost twice as fast as those who stay on the field.
“This was one of the first studies to tie-in a recovery consequence to staying in the game and playing with a concussion,” said lead author Robert J. Elbin of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
For the study, the researchers followed 95 athletes, including boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 19 who sought care for a sports-related brain injury at a specialty clinic during the fall of 2014. The researchers interviewed the participating athletes about their medical history, injury-related information, and when they were removed from play after their injury.
The athletes, who came from football, soccer, hockey, volleyball, and basketball, also underwent numerous neurocognitive tests one to seven days after their injury, and again eight to 30 days later. This allowed the researchers to determine how long each player took to be found safe to return to their sport.
Using this information, the team compared 35 teens who were removed immediately after a concussion to 24 who continued to play for a significant amount of time (an average of 19 minutes) before being sidelined.
According to the results, those who stayed on the field required an average of 44 days to be cleared to play, compared to just 22 days for those who were removed immediately. The athletes who kept playing also suffered more numerous and more severe symptoms compared to their counterparts.
The report highlights the importance of self-reporting injuries that go unnoticed from the sidelines.
“For youth athletes that present with a head injury, it’s recommended that they’re immediately removed from play and seek medical evaluation,” Elbin said. “Unfortunately 50 percent of concussions go unreported.”
Many athletes say they feel guilt for reporting injuries and say they are letting the team down by stepping off the field. But, the new report shows staying in the game may be worse.
“According to these data, continuing to play will let the team down more,” Elbin said.