Jun 14, 2017
Overcoming Barriers

For many athletes, simply knowing about the symptoms of a concussion is not enough to make them admit to the injury. According to Reuters Health, a recent study from the Journal of Athletic Training has shown that, while not disclosing the symptoms is common, high school male athletes are even less likely to report them than females.

Jessica Wallace, PhD, AT, ATC, an Assistant Professor of Athletic Training at Youngstown State University, was the lead author of the study. The participants included 198 male athletes and 90 female athletes from three Michigan high schools.

To carry out this research, the athletes were given a survey that covered four areas. First, they were tested on their ability to recognize the symptoms of concussions. They were then asked if they had ever experienced symptoms of a concussion, and, if so, how many of them they had reported to an authority figure. Last, the athletes were asked to name the reasoning for any instances where they did not report their symptoms.

Both male and female athletes scored about the same when it came to knowledge of symptoms. There were also some common reasons for not reporting a concussion, from not thinking it was serious to not wanting to miss out on any playing time.

However, it was found that males were four to 11 times less likely than females to report their concussions. For the most part, this had to do with the negative stigma of male athletes looking weak when admitting to an injury.

“Especially within male-dominated sports, we are seeing that many male athletes are not reporting because they are highly sensitive to how their peers and coaches view them,” said Dr. Wallace.

This is a dangerous belief, say the researchers, as those athletes who continue to play through a concussion are liable to face reinjury. In addition, they will likely take longer to recover, missing more playing time than if they had reported their symptoms in the first place.

“If an athlete fails to report the injury and continues to play while symptomatic, it can either delay recovery or potentially result in a catastrophic outcome,” said Dr. Wallace.

To remedy this, Dr. Wallace says athletes need to be better educated on not only the symptoms of concussion, but also what can happen if they continue to play through one. This education should be paralleled with coaches helping to end the stigma by making it known that they expect each and every player to report any symptoms of concussion.

Dr. Wallace says the use of a “buddy system” can be helpful in concussion reporting, as well.

“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.”

Ultimately, the hope is that studies like this one will aid in understanding the reasons for athletes not reporting symptoms of a concussion and help create better programs to keep this from happening.

“Studies such as these are building blocks to helping us understand how to provide effective and impactful interventions to help athletes better report their injuries,” said Zachary Kerr, PhD, MPH, Assistant Professor in the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of North Carolina who wasn’t involved in the study. “Barriers to concussion reporting by athletes need to be resolved, with an emphasis not only on education and knowledge, but also the pressures that athletes face from peers, adults, and their own perceptions.”

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