Are Black Athletes Returning to Play Too Soon After Suffering a Concussion?

A new study led by researchers at the Vanderbilt Sports Concussion Center and the University of Alabama found that for athletes competing in middle school, high school, and college sports, Black athletes reported a shorter time between injury and symptom resolution and spent fewer days out of school than their White peers.

Some 38 million children and adolescents participate in organized sports annually and as high as 20 percent of these young athletes have had a concussion. The current study found that Black athletes experienced a shorter duration of symptoms and returned to school quicker than their White peers. Specifically, the median days to symptom resolution among Black athletes was 12 days compared to 21 days among White athletes. Also, Black athletes reported missing little to no school after the injury, while White athletes reported missing, on average, about two days of school.

“Many concussion symptoms are not always easily tied to concussion or a brain injury, making it difficult for patients to discern,” notes Jessica Wallace co-investigator on the study and an assistant professor of health science at the University of Alabama. “Much more work has to be done in regards to better understanding symptoms, but there are disparities in symptom knowledge, which could influence symptom reporting or symptom recall.”

Researchers speculate that Black athletes may be returning to play too soon and therefore exposed to increased risk of further trauma. “Re-entry into sport and school after a concussion is serious so we have to move in the direction of closing these disparity gaps and equipping all athletes with tools/resources that will help to protect them and keep them safe,” Dr. Wallace said.

The full study, “Exploring the Outcomes and Experiences of Black and White Athletes Following a Sport-Related Concussion: A Retrospective Cohort Study,” was published in the Journal of Neurosurgery. It may be accessed here.

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