Players mum on concussions: study
Athletes of all types resist pulling themselves from competition, researchers find
MONTREAL— If the word “concussion” was replaced by “brain injury,” perhaps more athletes would admit they’ve had one.
That was one suggestion from Scott Delaney, who led a study by a team from the McGill University Health Centre into athletes’ attitudes toward concussions.
Their paper, “Why Professional Football Players Chose Not to Reveal Their Concussion Symptoms during a Practice or Game,” was published this month in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine.
Delaney’s team hopes to find ways to get athletes to seek treatment whenever they experience concus- sion symptoms such as headaches, nausea or blurred vision.
Multiple cases of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) among former athletes suffering from the long-term effects of concussions have made news in recent years, so one might expect current athletes to be eager to seek medical help after a blow to the head.
But the McGill researchers found that while most know what a concussion is, how it may damage the brain and how the condition is treated, many either shrug it off or try to make sure no one finds out.
“Maybe we should just call it ‘brain injury,’ which it what it is,” Delaney said. “Maybe that would drive it home a little more.
“Concussions are so ubiquitous, maybe something as simple as changing the word we use can reinforce the severity of the injury. It might just change the culture if peo- ple said, ‘She injured her brain. This is serious.’ ”
The research team surveyed 454 Canadian Football League players with support from the CFL and the CFL Players’ Association. Players filled out questionnaires anonymously during the 2016 pre-season.
They found that 23.4 per cent felt they had suffered a concussion during the 2015 season and that 82.1 per cent of that group did not seek treatment for a suspected concussion at least once during the season. Only 6 per cent who said they would see a doctor after a game did so, and only about 20 per cent always reported concussions to the team’s medical staff.
The report’s conclusions noted that “players seemed educated about the concussion evaluation process and possible treatment guidelines, but this knowledge did not necessarily translate into safe and appropriate behaviour at the time of injury.”
“Presenting them with the facts is good, but not enough,” said Delaney, head physician for the Montreal Impact of Major League Soccer, assistant physician for the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes and team doctor for McGill’s football team and men’s and women’s soccer squads.
“We have to somehow change the culture involved in concussions and make people better understand the risk and try to take the pressure off the players if they come forward.”
About half of those who did not seek treatment said they didn’t feel the injury was serious enough to leave the game. Other common reasons included fear of being taken off the field or of missing future games.
Delaney said peer pressure is another factor. Athletes don’t want to let their team or their coach down, or they want to avoid being branded “injury-prone.”
What does not appear to be a major factor is financial gain. He said CFL players’ reluctance to admit to concussions was only slightly higher than what was found in a similar survey two years ago of unpaid student athletes on men’s and women’s teams in various sports at McGill and Concordia.
“They hid just as many concussions and they hid them for almost exactly the same reasons,” said Delaney. “They didn’t think it was very dangerous. They had done it before. They didn’t want to miss this game or the next game.
“The issue of hiding concussions is not a professional football issue, it’s a sport issue, and you can’t make it better unless you understand why they’re doing it.”
Delaney’s research team included kinesiologists Jeffrey Caron and Gordon Bloom and statistician Jose Correa.