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Delayed concussion reporting linked to longer recovery time

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New research suggests that waiting to report concussion symptoms may result in further damage to the brain and a longer recovery time.

Researchers at the University of Florida found that college athletes who delayed treatment or removal from play missed an average of five more days of play than athletes who immediately reported concussion symptoms.

The study has been published in the May issue of the Journal of Athletic Training.

Previous research indicates that during a “window of vulnerability” immediately after a concussion, intense physical activity — not just direct hits to the head — can be detrimental, said lead author Breton Asken, a student in the neuropsychology track of the clinical psychology doctoral program at the College of Public Health and Health Professions, part of UF Health.

“We believe exertion or increasing blood flow to the brain when it´s not quite ready to handle that, even in the absence of more impacts to the brain, could also interfere with recovery in this window,” Asken explained.

For the study, researchers examined data from the University of Florida Concussion Databank on 97 male and female athletes from various sports who were diagnosed with a sport-related concussion between 2008 and 2015. Of those, 50 did not immediately report concussion symptoms.

Taking into account other factors shown to prolong recovery time, such as a history of concussion or previous diagnosis of a learning disability, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or depression, the researchers found that athletes who delayed reporting a concussion still took an average of five more days to receive medical clearance to return to play.

“I think many athletes naively believe that concussion symptoms will go away, or if they report a concussion it will keep them out of play for a lot longer,” commented senior author Russell Bauer, Ph.D., Asken´s mentor and a professor in the department of clinical and health psychology. “These data show that if you do have signs of concussion and you wait to report it, you may actually have a longer road back to the playing field.”

“The acute effects of concussion and what it does to the brain are becoming better understood at this point, but in some cases it is still not enough to convince athletes that it is important to report an injury or remove themselves immediately from play,” Asken added. “What this study might add is context the athlete can relate to, and that is how much time they may miss from their sport.

“Immediate reporting of concussion symptoms allows for proper management at the point of injury and gives athletes the best opportunity to return to their sport more quickly.”