Why Athletes Choose Not to Reveal Concussion Symptoms

Steve Jordan, M.D.
Orthopaedic Surgeon / Sports Medicine Specialist
Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine
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There are three main reasons why athletes don't report concussions on the athletic field. It's been reported that 50% of high school athletes won't report it. That's a big number.

1. Athletes work hard to get on the field and they're afraid that they are going to lose playing time if they tell somebody they're hurt.

2. The mantra of sports is mental and physical toughness. If they tell somebody that they may be hurt or confused they may think that they're not being tough enough. But also with toughness is they don't want to let their teammates down. So some athletes may not say it because they know they may be taken out – but they would let their teammates down.

3. The most difficult one to understand is the injury itself. A traumatic brain injury is an alteration of your brain function. So sometimes athletes don't even know they're concussed.

One great example, when I was the team physician for Florida State University, our football team was at an away stadium. It was really noisy and the quarterback got hit really hard. We ran out to check on him. He jumped up said that he was fine, that he was going back in the game and turned around to run back into the huddle. I stopped him and told him that he wasn’t going back in and he disagreed with me. I asked him, “Where are we playing?” He said that I was right, and he turned and walked off. The point was he didn't even realize he was hurt.

The NFL instituted a program they called ‘Eye in the Sky’ and what they've done is given certified athletic trainers positions away from the field so they can watch and monitor concussions on the field, and look for athletes that may have been missed. As a doctor or an athletic trainer on the side line – number one, we have about the worst seat to see the field. Players are going in and out in front of us, the coaches and the front line players are in front of us. We may be asked to evaluate a player, so we can’t see the field all the time and we may miss something. But having an athletic trainer there helps educate the players to self-report and to understand the symptoms and the importance of concussions. Having said all that – if we have an athletic trainer there, if we have somebody helping spot, it allows the coaches a sense of confidence that it is going to be taken care of. It is really important that the coaches buy into that and realize that the athletic trainers are there to help them – not hurt them. Sometimes coaches think you're taking players out, but we all know the player’s safety is most important.


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