Apr 26, 2017
Head Injuries Hidden

In recent years, athletic trainers around the country have raised awareness about concussions and educated young athletes about the causes, signs, and symptoms of head injuries. The theory was that doing so would lead to increased reporting of concussions. But new research suggests that these efforts may not be having quite the impact athletic trainers have hoped for.

The study was conducted in Michigan and surveyed 715 high school student-athletes ages 13 to 19, including 438 who had access to an athletic trainer. Each participant answered 83 questions about their own concussion history, concussion knowledge, signs and symptoms of a concussion, responses in specific scenarios, and reasons why they or other athletes would not report a concussion.

One of the main objectives of the investigation was to determine the effect that access to an athletic trainer had on concussion awareness and reporting. The hypothesis was that athletes at high schools without an athletic trainer would be less likely to understand and report concussions.

Based on the survey questions, 87 percent of athletes from schools without athletic trainers seemed to understand the dangers of concussions, compared to 94 percent from the schools with athletic trainers. In addition, 61 percent of athletes from schools without athletic trainers were able to identify the signs and symptoms of a concussion, compared to 78 percent from the schools with athletic trainers.

“The athletic trainer serves a vital role in the health and safety of high school athletes,” lead study author Jessica Wallace, PhD, AT, ATC, Athletic Training Program Director and Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Performances and Exercise Science at Youngstown State University, told Reuters Health in an e-mail. “One of the athletic trainer’s responsibilities is to help educate athletes, coaches, and parents about concussions that appear to be happening within high schools.”

Though it appears athletic trainers have educated athletes about head injuries, the study was unable to prove that access to an athletic trainer was linked to a higher proportion of concussions being reported. Overall, 55 percent of high school athletes involved in the survey underreported concussions. About 46 percent said they had experienced a potential concussion during competition, yet only 21 percent said they reported it to an authority figure at the time.

About 19 percent of these incidents were reported in schools without athletic trainers, compared to 25 percent in schools with athletic trainers. Due to a limited sample size and a potential margin of error, this difference was concluded to be too small to rule out the possibility that it was simply chance.

“This study sheds light on the multiple reasons why student-athletes may not report a concussion, including not thinking the injury was serious enough to require medical attention or not wanting to let the team down,” said Dr. Wallace.

The results also indicate that there is still progress to be made.

“Improving concussion protocol will extend into other issues with student-athletes, such as lack of mental health disclosure and allowing play when athletes are injured or sick,” said Johna Register-Mihalik, PhD, LAT, ATC, Assistant Professor in the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of North Carolina, who developed the survey used in the study but was not part of the research team. “Involving parents, coaches, and students can create a safe playing environment.”

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