Why University Athletes May Hide Concussion Symptoms
I often encounter athletes who continue to practice or play in a game despite suffering concussion signs and symptoms and since hiding this information is not considered advisable and potentially quite dangerous, have to admit that my initial response is along the lines of "what were you thinking?"
We as medical professionals have a pretty set initial response to a concussion- any suspicion of concussion, immediately remove from activity.
Pretty certain that athletes may view the initial response to concussion in a different light than us medical types.
As I find myself more often hearing of athletes hiding symptoms, my response still is a "what were you thinking?" but rather than asked in a frustrated or ready for a lecture tone, it is asked more in a sense of wanting to appreciate their mindset.
Is it lack of appreciation for the risks of concussion? How about denial? What about worry about losing a role on the team or not wanting to "bother" anyone?
Thus, it was interesting to see that Delaney and colleagues addressed this issues with their study Why University Athletes Choose Not to Reveal Their Concussion Symptoms During a Practice or Game.
The objectives of this paper were to better understand why athletes who believe they have suffered a concussion while playing their sport “hide,” or decide not to volunteer, their symptoms to medical staff by identifying:
- specific reasons why athletes who believed they had suffered a concussion during a game or practice decided not to seek attention from medical staff at that time, how often these reasons occurred, and how important these reasons were in the decision process
- whether there were individual variables that may have made an athlete more likely to not volunteer his or her symptoms to a therapist/trainer or physician during a game or practice.
Findings of anonymous questionnaires that asked only about "self-diagnosed" concussions revealed that almost 20% of the 469 males and female athlete respondents believed they had suffered a sport-related concussion within the past 12 months. Of great interest was the fact that 78.3% of those athletes reporting a concussion did not seek medical attention either during the practice or game.
Main reasons for "keeping quiet" were:
- “Did not feel the concussion was serious/severe and felt could still continue to play with little danger"
- "Had similar symptoms of a concussion in the past and felt that there was little or no danger as had no problems with previous concussions or similar symptoms in the past"
- "Fear that being diagnosed with a concussion would affect standing with the current team or future teams”
- “Fear that being diagnosed with a concussion would result in negative of repercussions from the coach or coaching staff”
- "Felt that would be removed from the game by the medical staff and did not wish this to happen”
- “Fear that being diagnosed with a concussion would result in missing future games"
So, it appears that common human emotions- denial, minimalization and fear- are playing a big role.
All are understandable and none aren't surprising.
Not saying that they legitimize hiding symptoms or make it acceptable practice.
But rather they give unique insight into the psyche of university athletes and perhaps open particular in-roads to improving the culture of reporting concussion symptoms.
We need to recognize the fear of being removed, and attempt to address this fear by underscoring importance of early admission and treatment hopefully leading to a less complicated recovery and potentially an appropriately quicker return.
We need to have teams and coaches limit any negative responses to concussion diagnoses and provide essential support to any concussed or any injured athlete for that matter.
We need to acknowledge the competitive drive of our athletes and channel this into a competitive drive to protect their brains by offering such comprehensive diagnostic and management programs that athletes wouldn't think of missing out on getting such essential care.