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Many H.S. Football Players Would Play Through Concussion Symptoms

A majority of high school football players believe it's OK to play through concussion symptoms despite knowing the risk of serious injury, finds a study presented yesterday at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies.

Physicians from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center surveyed 120 high school football players, 30 of whom had previously suffered a concussion and 84 of whom reported going through previous concussion education. The study authors set out to determine whether a student-athlete's previous concussion education influenced his views on what to do when experiencing symptoms of a concussion.

Nearly 91 percent of the football players surveyed knew that continuing to play despite concussion symptoms could result in serious injury or even death (via second-impact syndrome). A study released in June 2011 in the journal Pediatrics found that a number of student-athlete deaths caused by head trauma were potentially preventable, given better return-to-play policies and more effective equipment.

A vast majority of the football players in the Cincinnati study were also able to identify typical symptoms of concussions, including headaches, dizziness, memory problems, sensitivity to light or sound, and difficulty with concentration.

And yet, despite all that, more than 91 percent of the student-athletes surveyed said they felt it was OK for someone to stay in a game after suffering a concussion. Fifty-three percent replied that they would "always or sometimes continue to play with a headache sustained from an injury," the study found, and nearly three-quarters of the athletes surveyed said they would play through any injury to win a game.

Only roughly 40 percent would tell their coach immediately if they were experiencing concussion symptoms, according to the study. An additional 14 percent would "sometimes" report concussion symptoms to their coach.

"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 Dr. Brit Anderson, the lead author and an emergency medicine fellow at Cincinnati Children's Hospital. "Other approaches, such as an increased use of sideline screening by coaches or athletic trainers, might be needed to identify injured athletes."

Anderson and his colleagues found no evidence that the players with higher levels of previous concussion education had significantly different attitudes toward returning to play after a concussion compared to players with little or no previous concussion knowledge.

Of course, this isn't the first survey to find high school football players relatively unperturbed about the potential ramifications of concussions. A study presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics national conference last fall found only 38 percent of them to be concerned about the long-term effects of sports-related concussions. Nearly one-third of the athletes surveyed for that study admitted to not seeking medical attention after having concussion-like symptoms at least once in the past two years. More than half of players who declined medical attention did so for fear of being sidelined by their injury.

It just goes to show that until there's a quick and conclusive way to determine whether a student-athlete has a concussion, student-athletes, coaches, and other youth-sports officials will continue to wade in somewhat murky waters.

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