Study: Athletes Who Keep Playing After Concussion Take Longer to Recover

Young athletes with sport-related concussions who were not immediately removed from the field took nearly twice as long to recover as those who did not continue to play, according to a research team led by University of Arkansas professor R.J. Elbin and colleagues at three other universities.

In a study of high school football and soccer players, Elbin and his co-authors compare recovery time and clinical outcomes of concussed athletes who were removed from play immediately following concussion and those who were not. The study was published today by Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The researchers found that athletes who stayed in the game after having a concussion took about 44 days to recover, while athletes who were removed immediately took about 22 days to recover. Athletes who continued to play also showed worse cognitive problems and more severe symptoms than the athletes who were removed from play after injury.

“These results underscore the risks associated with continuing to play with a sport-related concussion and emphasize to athletes, parents, coaches and on-field clinicians the importance of timely recognition and identification of the signs and symptoms of concussion and immediate removal from play,” Elbin said.

As many as 3.8 million concussions related to sports and recreation occur each year in the United States, according to the researchers. Concussions cause headache, dizziness and nausea and can harm various functions of the brain (e.g., cognitive, visual, emotional). Concussions can also result in academic and psychosocial problems.

“We know that, despite increases in awareness, some athletes continue to play with concussions because they do not want to be removed from a game,” said Michael Collins, one of the co-authors and director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Sports Medicine Concussion Program. “This research indicates that knowing when to get treated can be critical to a faster recovery, and we hope it will help those athletes, coaches and parents make better decisions about whether to keep playing.”

Elbin’s co-authors included five researchers from the University of Pittsburgh’s concussion program, where Elbin completed a post-doctoral research fellowship before joining the faculty of the College of Education and Health Professions at the University of Arkansas. Elbin also served on a national panel of the nation’s leading concussion clinicians and researchers that convened last fall in Pittsburgh to write a report on best treatments for concussion.

About the Office for Sport Concussion Research: R.J. Elbin directs the Office for Sport Concussion Research at the University of Arkansas. Its mission is to improve – through education, research and outreach initiatives – the standard of care for athletes with sport-related concussion.

About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among only 2 percent of universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.

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