A study conducted in May 2016 among various sports at the University of Florida, a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division 1 university, found that those who continue to play immediately after a concussion averaged an extra five days before being cleared to return to play compared to those who had stopped play immediately after a concussion.
Researchers analyzed information in the University of Florida Concussion Databank, which collects medical history, details of injury events and assessment data for student athletes. The study focused on 97 athletes, 75 of whom were men, who sustained a concussion during a game or practice between 2008 and 2015. The athletes played football, soccer, basketball, swimming, diving, volleyball and other sports, but the concussion recovery times were not broken down by individual sport.
There were other unaccounted for variables in the study. In many of the cases, the researchers could not tell how much longer a player had stayed in the game after suffering a concussion because the player did not immediately report symptoms or the initial injury had been coded as something other than concussion before the player reported head injury symptoms. Nevertheless, the study results provide evidence that changes in brain cells caused by concussion may also be compounded or prolonged by playing through a concussion and cause prolonged recovery.
“The brain is likely vulnerable to further physiologic and metabolic changes right after an injury – whether that be from sustaining more impacts or even from continued physical exertion,” said lead author Breton Asken, a neuropsychology graduate student in the University of Florida’s Clinical Psychology doctoral program. “Our findings indicate that immediately engaging your medical staff if you suspect you have sustained concussion will give you the best chance to return to your sport more quickly,” Asken advised athletes.
Being sidelined for extra days may resonate more with athletes than the risk of brain injury to their health, and getting back into the game as quickly as possible is practical for both coaches and athletes. Players are also encouraged to report symptoms in a teammate to help them get better faster.