Young Black, White Athletes Differ in Concussion Recovery

Young Black athletes who suffered concussions while playing sports were quicker to return to school and less likely to adjust their daily routines than young White athletes, according to a new study on racial differences in concussion recovery.

“The findings from this study provide novel evidence that the recovery experience following sport-related concussion likely differs between Black and White athletes, and understanding these differences may serve to provide better and more personalized intervention and management strategies,” wrote lead author Aaron M. Yengo-Kahn, MD, of Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. The study was published in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics.

To assess how postconcussion experiences and recovery time differ among young White and Black athletes, the researchers launched a retrospective cohort study of youths between the ages of 12 and 23 from the middle Tennessee, northern Alabama, and southern Kentucky regions who had been treated for sport-related concussion. Using data from the Vanderbilt Sports Concussion Center’s outcome registry, they examined the records of 247 student-athletes, 211 of whom were White and 36 of whom were Black.

The majority of the athletes were male – 58% of the White group and 78% of the Black group – and their average age across groups was roughly 16 years. Thirty-three percent of the Black athletes were on public insurance, compared with just 6% of the White athletes, and 41% of the Black athletes lived in low–median income areas while 55% of the White athletes lived in areas with a high median income. Approximately 90% of each group played contact sports.

The median time to symptom resolution was 21 days (interquartile range, 10.5-61.0) for White athletes but just 12.3 days (IQR, 6.8-28.0) for Black athletes. Multivariable regression confirmed that Black athletes reached asymptomatic status sooner than White athletes (hazard ratio, 1.497; 95% confidence interval, 1.014-2.209; P = .042). “The observed shorter symptom resolution among the Black athletes may be explained by a complex interplay among race, concussion knowledge, attitudes toward sport-related concussion, reporting behavior, and sociodemographic disparities,” the authors noted.

The median time until returning to school post injury was 2 school days (IQR, 0-5) for White athletes and 0 school days (IQR, 0-2) for Black athletes. After multivariable analysis, being Black was indeed associated with returning to school sooner, compared with being White (HR, 1.522; 95% CI, 1.02-2,27; P = .040). Being Black was also associated with being less likely to a report a change in daily activity post concussion (odds ratio, 0.368; 95% CI, 0.136-0.996; P = .049).

Adding Race to Research

To make headway toward understanding race’s impact on concussion research, the authors proposed three immediate steps: Work directly with schools instead of clinics or emergency departments, match the diversity of study cohorts with the racial makeup of the surrounding community, and consider race as a covariate during study design.

“In our work with concussions, there is very little reported on race or racism or how racism affects how patients are navigating these spaces,” said coauthor Jessica Wallace, PhD, of the department of health science at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in an interview. “But we have so many athletes at the youth level, adolescent level, even the collegiate level; it’s such a diverse array of patients. We need to have data representative of all of our groups so that we know where we need to be intentional about reducing disparities and closing gaps.”

Wallace, who recently authored a study on the underreporting of concussions among Black and White high school athletes, emphasized the need for concussion research to be a true collaboration across disciplines.

“I approach this work from this public health and athletic training lens, whereas a lot of my collaborators are in neurosurgery and neurology,” she said. “Moving forward, we as a scientific clinical community have to do interdisciplinary work and be very intentional about how we go about closing these gaps. We have to recognize that there are differences in knowledge and in care, and they’re unacceptable, and we have to work collaboratively in providing resources to communities equitably to decrease them.”

The authors acknowledged their study’s limitations, including the retrospective nature of the study, using zip codes to determine median household income, and an unbalanced number of White and Black athletes. They did add, however, that the ratio of participants “generally aligns with census data in the surrounding metropolitan and county areas.” That said, they also surmised that the scarcity of Black athletes could indicate a deeper disparity in health care system usage and asked future researchers to “consider enrolling athletes directly from schools rather than from within the concussion clinic only.”

Yengo-Kahn disclosed holding a compensated position on the scientific advisory board of BlinkTBI, but the authors noted that the company had no role in the study and its products were not used. No other conflicts of interest were reported.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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