Researchers study effects of concussions on younger athletes

September 2, 2016

When high school athletes get concussions, how does it affect their academic performance and how can their school districts best help them recover?

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Nursing and the School of Medicine and Public Health are attempting to answer these questions through a long-term analysis of 200 student athletes at area high schools.

Photo: Traci Snedden

Traci Snedden

Their study will build on a growing body of research that looks at concussions among younger participants in all sports. Already, research has determined that the concussion rate for high school sports is highest in football for boys and soccer for girls, but that concussion risks occur in all sports.

Less understood are the effects of the concussions and how younger athletes could best be supported to protect their academic performance.

“Right now, there is an overwhelming amount of media attention on the issue at the college and professional level,” says study leader Traci Snedden, a postdoctoral fellow at the School of Nursing. “There is a substantial gap in our knowledge about what is going on at the high school level and younger.”

The results of this study may eventually guide interventions that could ease academic challenges for student athletes with concussions.

Snedden has already heard strong interest and support from parents whose children have experienced concussions. Often, they believe more could be done to help their classroom reentry. Parents’ observations will be part of the post-injury assessments, which span four weeks after each concussion.

“They want to get back to their sport and to their classroom. Their motivation is high, and we want to figure out the best way to help.”

Traci Snedden

“We call this a silent injury,” Snedden says. “These students return to school without a cast or crutches or any visible sign of injury. Those around them may not understand they have an injury. They look fine.”

But in the classroom, students recovering from a concussion may have difficulty taking notes, completing homework, or focusing on quizzes and tests.

“These are generally high-excelling kids who can’t do what they did before,” Snedden adds. “They want to get back to their sport and to their classroom. Their motivation is high, and we want to figure out the best way to help.”