Athletes who have psychosomatic symptoms prior to concussion may take longer to recover

Athletes may take longer to recover after concussion if they had experienced psychosomatic symptoms before they became concussed, report researchers.

NEWARK, DE - OCTOBER 9 University of Maine running back Derrick Session (#6) runs away from defenders with the ball and without his helmet October 9, 2010 in Newark, DE

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Psychosomatic symptoms may include aches, pains or nausea that cannot be explained by any physical cause and they are often regarded as psychological distress expressed as physical distress.

We found the greatest predictor of recovery after a concussion was the severity of early post-concussion symptoms. But somatic complaints before injury also play an important role, either by possibly enhancing how a person experiences the injury or affecting their reporting of post-concussive symptoms,”

Lindsay Nelson, study author, professor of Neurosurgery and Neurology at the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

For the study, 2,055 athletes from high schools and colleges were assessed before the start of the season for balance, thinking and memory skills, psychological problems and psychosomatic problems such as unexplained chest, heart or stomach pain, feeling faint, dizziness and nausea.

During the season, 127 athletes suffered a concussion. Around 25% of the concussions occurred during soccer and the rest took place during wrestling, lacrosse, rugby, hockey and field hockey. These individuals were re-evaluated within the first day of their concussion and again at 8, 15 and 45 days after their injury.

As reported in the journal Neurology, concussion symptoms lasted for an average of five days. Sixty-four percent of the athletes said their symptoms had gone away after one week and 95% reported that symptoms had gone after one month.

Nelson and team found that athletes who had psychosomatic symptoms prior to their injury recovered more slowly than people who had not reported any such symptoms. Among those with the symptoms before they became concussed, 80% recovered within around 20 days. This compared with 80% recovering within around 10 days among those who reported having no symptoms prior to their injury.

“That these athletes were relatively healthy physically and psychologically highlights the relevance of psychosomatic symptoms and the role they play in recovery even in healthy people,” says Nelson.

She hopes the study will lead to further research, “because identifying those at risk for prolonged recovery is critical to developing early interventions that improve outcomes for people who suffer concussions.”

Sally Robertson

Written by

Sally Robertson

Sally first developed an interest in medical communications when she took on the role of Journal Development Editor for BioMed Central (BMC), after having graduated with a degree in biomedical science from Greenwich University.

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