What can family medicine providers learn about concussion non-disclosure from former collegiate athletes?

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© 2018 The Author(s). Background: Despite the risks, concussion symptoms often go underreported by athletes, leading to delayed or forgone treatment and increased potential for concussion recurrence. One of the most serious long-term consequences of sports-related concussions is Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy (CTE), a disorder associated with progressive neurological deterioration. The purpose of this study was to explore former collegiate athletes' understanding of concussions and motivations behind concussion non-disclosure in order to better assist family medicine providers in screening for and managing a history of concussions. Methods: Informed by the theoretical framework Social Cognitive Theory, we conducted focus groups with former collegiate athletes using a field-tested discussion guide. Discussions were transcribed, coded, and analyzed via content and thematic analyses using NVivo 10 software. Results: Thirty-two former collegiate athletes (24.5 ± 2.9 years old, 59.4% female, 87.5% white) participated in 7 focus groups. Three predominant themes emerged: 1) Concussions are Part of the Game: Participants believed that concussions were part of sports, and that by agreeing to play a sport they were accepting the inherent risk of concussions. Importantly, many were not familiar with concussion symptoms and what constituted a concussion; 2) Hiding Concussion Symptoms: Participants said they often hid concussion symptoms from coaches and trainers in order to avoid being taken out of or missing games. Participants were able to hide their concussions because most symptoms were indiscernible to others; and 3) Misconceptions about Concussions in Low Contact Sports: Several participants did not understand that concussions could occur in all sports including low contact or noncontact sports. The former athletes who participated in low contact sports and experienced concussions attributed their concussions to personal clumsiness rather than their sport. Conclusions: Family medicine providers as well as coaches, athletic trainers, teachers, and parents/guardians should reinforce the message that concussions can occur in all sports and inform patients about the signs and symptoms of concussions. Further, providers should ask all patients if they engaged in high school or collegiate athletics; and if yes, to describe their hardest hit to their head in order to obtain a complete medical history.