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Assessment by health professional linked to better management of school sports concussions

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Senior schools that have limited access to athletic trainers tend to have a higher rate of unreported and mismanaged sport-related concussions, a new study has found.

The research, published in the Journal of Athletic Training, highlights the importance of having suspected concussions assessed promptly by a qualified healthcare professional.

In the United States, athletic trainers are healthcare professionals who provide medical services to, amongst others, athletes participating in sports. In many US high schools, the athletic trainer has responsibility for identifying and managing athletes with concussions.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health worked with 31 high schools across Wisconsin to gather injury data on approximately 2,400 student athletes aged 14-18. Across these schools there was considerable variation in the availability of athletic trainers during school sports sessions and out-of-school matches.

The researchers wanted to understand how the availability of athletic trainers in high schools affects the reporting and management of sport-related concussions.

They found that:

– On average, athletes at schools with low athletic trainer availability waited 24 hours between the onset of a sports concussion and their first meeting with an athletic trainer, while athletes at schools with both mid and high athletic trainer availability were evaluated within an hour of the injury.

– Only 53% of athletes who sustained a sport-related concussion at a school with low athletic trainer availability underwent a ‘return to sport’ protocol, compared to 94% at schools with mid athletic trainer availability and 100% at schools with high high athletic trainer availability.

– Athletes with a sport-related concussion were kept out of their sport for 2.5 days longer at schools with high and mid athletic trainer availability than at schools with low athletic trainer availability.

– Overall, athletes at schools with high athletic trainer availability were more likely to be diagnosed with a sport-related concussion than athletes at schools with low athletic trainer availability.

“Our findings clearly show that limited access to athletic trainers in high schools is resulting in unreported and mismanaged sport-related concussions in our student athletes,” said Tim McGuine, PhD, the study’s principal investigator and sports medicine researcher at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. “There is no question that misdiagnosing or delaying appropriate medical intervention for these types of injuries could have short- or long-term consequences. It is crucial that we find responsible solutions so that all schools can provide the highest standard of safety for these kids.”