Playing through a concussion not only opens up the possibility of worsening the injury but also sidelines an athlete longer as recovery takes double the time, says a new study.
Published in the journal Pediatrics, the study involved male and female athletes between the ages of 12 and 19 who were treated for sports-related concussions at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Of these participants, 35 were immediately removed from play after manifesting concussion symptoms while 34 continued for about another 19 minutes before stopping.
According to results, those who were immediately removed from play took 22 days to recover while those who kept playing were sidelined for 44 days. Overall, those who kept playing after showing concussion symptoms were almost nine times likelier to endure longer recovery periods lasting over 21 days. However, it is not clear if continued physical exertion is to blame for longer recovery times or if additional head trauma was sustained when a concussed athlete kept playing.
Those who kept playing also presented worse neurocognitive symptoms and at a greater number compared to those who sat out right away.
Concussed athletes are specifically advised to stop playing so as to prevent second-impact syndrome, a rare condition that leads to possibly fatal bleeding or swelling in the brain when the head is hit again during recovery.
Though small, the study is the first to directly compare recovery outcomes between concussed athletes who kept playing and those who were sat out immediately. It also acts as evidence supporting return-to-play policies across the United States that state that athletes suspected of concussions must sit out games until their symptoms resolve.
"Unfortunately, 50 percent of concussions go unreported," said Robert J. Elbin, the study's lead author.
Athletes may be apprehensive about reporting systems because they don't want to miss games and let their team down. However, the study shows that continuing to play with a concussion is not only detrimental in the long run to affected athletes but to their team as well because they will have to miss twice as much playing time to recover.
It's also possible for a concussed athlete to not realize they are hurt early into the head injury. As such, teammates are advised to look out for each other, reporting impairment right away so that a concussed athlete can be removed from play immediately, helping ease recovery.
Across all ages in the United States, some 300,000 concussions related to sports occur every year. In high school athletes, concussions happen in nearly three out of every 10,000 practices or games.