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CARE Consortium: Effect of immediate removal from activity after concussion

Those who cease play soon after an injury have shorter recovery times, study finds

It seems intuitive that athletes who are removed from play soon after a concussion might experience better outcomes than those who continue to press on, but is that the case? In hopes of tackling that question, Breton Asken, a graduate student in Florida’s Department of Clinical and Health Psychology, led a team that examined the records of 506 student-athletes, including service academy cadets, who suffered a concussion while taking part in the Concussion Assessment, Research and Education Consortium study. The resulting paper, published in March in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, offered interesting evidence that recovery times were faster and symptom severity lower among those who ceased athletic activity immediately after suffering a sport-related concussion injury.

What did the study find?

Those who were removed immediately after suffering a concussion missed roughly three fewer days of sport participation than their counterparts whose removal from play was delayed. They also were at much lower risk of their recovery taking more than 14 days, and their acute symptoms in the wake of the injury proved less severe than those of their counterparts who continued to participate. Even those who experienced delayed symptom onset but were removed immediately after symptoms began experienced quicker recovery times.

What are the implications?

These findings could have an immediate — and positive — cultural impact and could be perhaps most important to athletes themselves. If coaches and medical personnel can impart upon athletes that hiding concussion symptoms in hopes of staying in a game ultimately could hurt both them and their team due to a longer recovery period, athletes may be more inclined to report an injury immediately. The data suggest that, in the long run, trying to play through the injury may hurt athletes and their team far more than it helps them.

“These findings should encourage coaches to reinforce the message to their athletes that they should not try and play through or tough out a possible concussion,” Asken said. “It is in the athlete’s, and ultimately the team’s, best interests to report the injury immediately.”

What’s next?

While these findings may help encourage athletes to help practitioners identify head injuries quickly and accurately in hopes of returning to play sooner, the cause of improved recovery time for early concussion reporting warrants further examination.

“Studying potential differences in physiological effects of playing through a concussion might help us learn what’s driving the differences in how these athletes look clinically,” Asken said. “I would also be interested in exploring how career athletes’ risk for abnormal later-life physiological and/or clinical changes may differ based on how often they never reported, delayed their reporting or immediately reported suspected concussions during their playing days.”