Reports of Head Injury and Symptom Knowledge Among College Athletes: Implications for Assessment and Educational Intervention

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Abstract

Objective

To identify the prevalence of head injuries and related symptoms among college athletes and examine knowledge of head injury consequences and behavioral tendencies of athletes in the presence of symptoms.

Design

Retrospective survey.

Participants

A total of 461 male and female athletes beginning competitive play at the University of Akron (Akron, OH) during the years 1995 to 2001.

Main Outcome Measures

Responses to survey questions were analyzed to determine the frequency of concussions and injury-related symptoms (eg, dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting) in addition to behavioral responses in the presence of certain symptoms (eg, playing with headache, failure to report symptoms while playing). Written responses to queries regarding symptom knowledge were analyzed for thematic content and were used to identify deficiencies in signs and symptoms of concussion.

Results

Nearly 32% of all athletes had experienced a blow to the head causing dizziness, with over 1/4 confirming various somatic symptoms following a blow to the head (eg, seeing stars, nausea or vomiting, head pain). Continuing to play despite symptom presence was noted (eg, dizziness, 28.2%; headache, 30.4%), with 19.5% reporting a concussion diagnosis. Knowledge of head injury consequences was found to be deficient, with 56% indicating no knowledge of the possible consequences following a head injury. Of those providing responses, the majority reflected awareness of cognitive (eg, memory problems) and physical (eg, brain damage) consequences.

Conclusions

A sizable number of athletes may enter collegiate play with a previous concussion diagnosis, and many more are likely to have experienced symptoms suggestive of a mild head injury. Of considerable concern is the tendency to play while symptomatic (eg, headache, dizziness) and the failure to report symptoms while playing—especially among football players (25.2%). The apparent deficiency in athlete knowledge of head injury consequences raises concern regarding athlete recognition of potentially problematic symptoms and represents an important area for educational intervention.

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