High School Athletes Continue To Play Despite Concussion Symptoms

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High school athletes experience their fair share of dangerous head injuries during high-impact sports play, but new research shows many high school football players won’t bring their concussion symptoms to their coaches’ attention.

Despite the fact that the students reported they were aware of the risks associated with concussions from football, a little more than half of 120 high school players surveyed said they continue to play.

(MORE: Even Football Players Without Concussions Show Signs of Brain Injury)

Even though they understood the dangers, 53% said they would “always or sometimes continue to play with a headache sustained from an injury.” Just 54% said they would “always or sometimes report symptoms of a concussion to their coach,” according to the study, which was presented on May 6 at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

Among the surveyed players, 30 reported suffering a concussion and 82 reported having concussion symptoms and risks explained to them. The majority of the high schoolers indicated that they understood that headaches, dizziness, difficulty with memory, difficulty concentrating and light and sound sensitivity were all risk factors for a concussion after a high-impact hit.

“We aren’t yet at the point where we can make specific policy recommendations for sports teams, but this study raises concerns that young athletes may not report symptoms of concussions,” said lead study author Dr. Brit Anderson, an emergency medicine fellow at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, in a statement. “Other approaches, such as an increased use of sideline screening by coaches or athletic trainers, might be needed to identify injured athletes.”

(MORE: Study Details How Brain Injury from Concussions Progresses)

Diagnosing concussions among high-impact sports athletes has gained more attention in the past couple years as more research has come out showing a high prevalence of memory loss in NFL players. Concussions can be hard to confirm because the diagnosis relies heavily on players’ self-reported symptoms. Brain scans are useful in diagnosing injury, but they’re also pricey. Players’ pride and desire to stay on the field may also prevent them from reporting their symptoms, even if they suspect they have a concussion.

Researchers and clinicians are steering their focus to include a wider body of players and potential head injuries. The hope is that by increasing the awareness of the lasting effects of head trauma in all athletes, the injuries will be taken more seriously. A November study found that soccer players — who head oncoming balls — have changes in the protective white matter in their brains, even if they haven’t suffered a concussion.

(MORE: NFL Players May Be More Vulnerable to Alzheimer’s Disease)

Researchers presenting their findings at the fourth annual Youth Sports Safety Summit in February reported that athletes may be able to lower their risk of suffering a concussion by strengthening their neck muscles. Stronger muscles could prevent extreme twists to the neck that rattle the brain and damage tissues.

TIME reported:

This new study is very promising. Neck strengthening exercises are easy. For example, you can use your own hands as a resistance tool — put your hands on the back of your head, and press them forward while your bend your neck backwards. They don’t require any huge investment in additional equipment; that’s important for today’s cash-strapped schools.

The current study findings as well as prior research suggest that addressing stigma continues to be an important factor in combating brain injury. If young people can learn to put aside pride for their own personal safety, hopefully the trend will start to catch on early.