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How Many Concussions Go Unreported?

Unreported Concussions

By Tricia Walker, ATC

Your team is up by one. There’s less than a minute to play. The crowd is cheering; you’re exhausted but running on adrenaline. All of sudden, you take a hit, fall backwards and your head hits the ground. For just a minute, you feel disoriented. But that’s nothing to worry about, right? Shake it off, get back in the game and help your team hang onto that lead just a little bit longer. No need to tell your coach or see a doctor. It can’t be a concussion.

Does this scenario sound familiar at all?

According to a study in the Journal of Athletic Training, 50% of concussions go unreported. The reason why is a key piece of information. In this study, a group of high school athletes was asked to participate to determine if attitude and concussion knowledge had any correlation to why some athletes reported concussion injuries or ‘bell ringer’ injuries and why some did not. What is a bell ringer? A bell ringer in this case is described as a brief, transient alteration in neurological function.

Most common reasons an athlete did not report the concussion or bell ringer according to this study:

  • The athlete did not think the event was serious enough to mention
  • The athlete did not want to be removed from a game
  • The athlete did not want to let their teammates down
  • The athlete did not want to let coaches down

Researchers found that when an athlete had a better understanding of concussion symptoms and the potential dangers of continuing to play after suffering a concussion, they were more likely to report the event.

Unreported Concussions

The Take Away:

The more athletes know and understand concussion symptoms and the potential dangers of continuing to play after suffering a concussion, the more likely they are to report the incident. From a clinical standpoint, the term ‘bell ringer’ minimizes the seriousness of concussions and possible concussions, and therefore we will see a rise in the reporting rates that will ultimately help ensure safety for all athletes. If an athlete is hit and is under the impression that he ‘just had his bell rung’ and continues to play with what might actually be a concussion, he is at a much greater risk for re-injury and a much longer recovery time. In worst case scenarios, the athlete could return to play with a potential brain bleed from a second concussion that could be fatal.

The more we as coaches, parents, athletes and supporters can help young athletes know the importance of every head impact and every ‘bell ringer’ incident, the safer we can keep each and every athlete from suffering multiple concussions without even knowing they’ve had one.

It’s why concussion treatment is so important particularly when it comes to the time sensitivity of concussion injuries. Concussions that go undiagnosed, unreported, or untreated for any amount of time, add to the overall length of time it takes for the athlete to fully recover. This is due partially to the fact that as long as they are not reported or diagnosed, the athlete is most likely still participating in activities that they should not be. Because a concussion is an injury that we cannot physically see, sometimes it is hard to know if the athlete is suffering from one. It is crucial to pay attention to changes in athlete’s behavior after a fall or impact that could be concussion-related. This is where concussion treatment comes into play.

Anytime a concussion injury is suspected, the athlete needs to be removed from activity for a short evaluation to determine if they should continue. This includes cognitive questioning and a symptom report. Regardless of the decision at that time, if the athlete continues to have any symptom(s), they should be seen by a medical professional. It only takes one symptom to diagnose a concussion. For example, if the athlete has a slight headache in the evening after being hit in their game, don’t take it lightly!

At Loudoun Sports Therapy Center, we begin the treatment process as soon as you call to set up an appointment. I will see your athlete right away (same day or the day after you call) and start tracking the athlete’s symptoms. During the evaluation process, I will determine the severity of the symptoms and how well their brain is functioning cognitively. I will also asses their balance and visual function, along with a memory test. After I have completed the evaluation, we will determine the proper next steps for the athlete in regards to school and activity, both sport-related and non-sport related.

Click HERE to learn more about our Concussion Management Program. Don’t let a concussion sideline you from what you love. Call Loudoun Sports Therapy Center TODAY at 703-450-4300.