A new study is making the case that athletes who suffer a concussion can cause themselves further damage by returning to play.
The study, published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, studied 19 high school athletes who suffered concussions and returned to the field within 60 days of the injury. The results of the study showed 12 of the 19 athletes experienced a significant regression in their ability to simultaneously walk and perform simple mental tasks. The athletes included 13 football players, four soccer players, one wrestler, and one volleyball player.
University of Oregon researcher Li-Shan Chou, one of the researchers involved in the study, said this regression means that these athletes would have difficulty walking down the street while talking to a friend.
There were too few subjects in this particular study to prove that these mental regressions are common among concussed athletes. However, its findings match up with some similar studies on concussions and mental abilities.
Another study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise in 2013 found that 25 concussed high school athletes showed decreased ability to focus and difficulty switching from one task to another for up to two months after the injury.
Concussion expert Kenneth Podell said the University of Oregon study reinforces the difficulty of managing concussed athletes.
“The take-away for parents is, the return from concussion is complex, and the best clinical practice calls for a slow and gradual return to activity under the guidance of professionals,” Podell said.
The rate of concussions among U.S. high school athletes more than doubled between 2005 and 2012, according to research from Ohio State University. Experts believe that nearly 3.8 million concussions occur every year in the U.S. during sports and recreational activities—and up to half of these incidents may go unreported.
Athletic departments, coaches, and lawmakers are starting to take notice of concussions and the dangers of putting a player back in the game too soon. A study from Children’s Hospital Colorado found that 80 percent of athletes now follow return-to-play guidelines after suffering a concussion, compared to about 50 percent of athletes back in 2007. All 50 states and the District of Columbia now have some sort of law in place to protect athletes from returning to the field before recovery.
But unfortunately, there are still no uniform “return-to-play” guidelines. Coaches often depend on a player’s ability to tell them how they feel and whether or not they are fit to play—but when players and coaches are both eager for the player to return to the field, the athlete’s long-term health can take a backseat to getting a win.
Symptoms of a concussion include headache, dizziness, nausea, ringing in the ears, and confusion. If an athlete suffers a blow to the head and exhibits any of the listed symptoms, he or she should be seen by a medical professional right away and taken out of physical activity until he or she can be medically cleared.