For the past four years, I have attended a high school in Montgomery County, Maryland. There, I played lacrosse and basketball. The sports teams at my school are collectively very competitive not only in our conference, but at a national level as well. With that being said, athletes in general would obviously prefer not to sit out during any part of the season due to medical reasons. But, at my high school, injury is not what most athletes fear. Ironically, it is the training staff that most athletes are afraid to consult. The trainers at my school have a reputation for prolonging the amount of time in which athletes are not allowed to play- especially when there is a concussion at hand.
So, I decided to ask: do doctors over-diagnose injuries among high school athletes?
Before I continue, I will say that obviously, there are extreme cases where athletes need serious recovery time, or even need to stop playing their sport all together. For example, one of my friends from middle school suffered 6 concussions over the course of 5 years, and he is no longer allowed to participate in any contact sport. In addition to this, it is also important to note that obviously all athletic trainers should and usually do have the athlete’s health and safety in mind when diagnosing injuries.
To first address this question, I did a bit of research on how age and brain development may effect recovery time. Bentz & Purzycki (2008) explain that younger athletes, and high school athletes in particular, are more susceptible to longer recovery periods after concussions. This is due to the fact that the brains of younger athletes are not as developed as the brains of college or professional athletes, which makes the younger athletes more vulnerable to more extreme brain damaging. The chart below shows the difference in recovery time between high school and college athletes.
With that knowledge, it’s also notable to touch on the presence of pressure put on physicians and trainers to get athletes back on the field as soon as possible. This Amednews article (2010) acknowledges that pressure, explaining how physicians and team trainers are pressured at all levels to clear players from injury before they are ready to play again. Because of this, the article explains, certain states have decided to crack down on concussion law. They propose things like increased teaching of concussion risk and legitimate doctor approval before being cleared to resume activity. If passed, these laws could help protect athletes and potentially save lives in the long run.
According to Joseph Nordqvist (2015), athletes who suffer concussions during their athletic careers are still affected by the incident months later, whether they realize it or not. In addition to that, older players who suffered concussions earlier in their lives are also likely to feel the effects, showing symptoms that mirror both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. The article ends by clearly stating that athletes who suffer multiple concussions after prematurely returning to sport before adequate recovery are much more vulnerable to more severe brain damage in the long run.
To conclude, I would say that students at my old high school, including myself, should have probably trusted our athletic trainers more than we actually did. Brain damage and injury is a very serious matter, and it seems that any degree of concussion can be somewhat dangerous. Athletic trainers have the athlete’s best interest in mind, and high school athletes should trust them.
The first image came from HERE.
The second image came from HERE.