One of the most unspoken truths about the Olympics and Paralympics is how normal it is to suffer from a concussion. It is not as though someone “wishes” for a concussion, no it is the contrary. But these athletes elicit an acceptance of their challenges and because they have chosen to compete, accept the risks while they pursue a daunting dream. But why then, with the hope of qualifying for the Paralympics, many para-athletes decide to keep mum about their pain and instead opt to suffer in silence from a concussion rather than seek help immediately?
Before we delve into the psyche of these decisions, Let’s review the statistics, the hard facts concerning concussions and para-athletes. In 2021 Kissick, et. al., conducted a research study and had national team physicians from the 2016 Rio Olympics complete a concussion/TBI questionnaire. They reported a significant number of injuries to the head, face and neck were relayed by athletes, (10 reports by one individual) yet none of these were reported to be concussions, nor were the athletes assessed for concussions. These statistics sent waves of shock to readers as many sports played in the Paralympics involve falls and blows to the head, but most injuries involved go undeclared. The author of the research paper noticed blatant hits to the head as well caused by balance issues, yet none of the injuries were reported as concussions. At the 2014 Sochi Paralympics, 37% of sit-ski alpine para-athletes endured injuries, out of which five percent were head and neck injuries (MD, 2017). Are these coaches turning a blinds eye to the athletes that need monitoring?
Another study conducted on the 2012 Paralympics resulted in the drawing of some unnerving conclusions as well. Football 7-a-side (popularly known as CP football) refers to the sport where athletes suffering from cerebral palsy compete in a football match. The rate of head and face injuries were 7.1% in this sport alone (Willick et al., 2013). Surprised by this percentage, a follow-up study based on 263 athletes was conducted where it was deduced that only 6.1% para-athletes disclosed their symptoms, in stark contrast to the appalling 44% that did not report their symptoms in fear of being removed from the game (Wessels, Broglio & Sosnoff, 2012). What is causing this imbalance? Are players reckless, is it the thrill of competition, are coaches encouraging para-athletes to win at all costs? Or is it another example of the extreme knowledge gap about brain injuries?
See No Evil. Hear No Evil. Speak No Evil.
How can we sit in the sidelines and not speak up? We must spotlight an emerging theme. Have we normalized the nondisclosure of a concussion or a head injury? Are we knowingly inducing more trauma to people that cannot afford to have more trauma directed towards them? Isn’t there an oath to be upheld; swearing protection for these para-athletes. It is time for a change.
The growing depth of these concerns from athletes, human right groups, sports enthusiasts and several associations are finally uniting to bring changes to existing concussion policies for the para-athletes. While researchers pledge their professions to study this further and disclose more information for the public to be aware of, these associations continue to take this information into account while slowly building a new framework for the safety of athletes. By having more discussions about this topic on podcasts, blogs and in daily conversation, we too can help accentuate the progress made towards ensuring an athlete’s safety. And this framework should be based on sound science that stems from clinical trial research, not convenience studies.
Football 7-a-side: Great Britain (GBR) versus Argentina (ARG) at the Men’s Semifinals during the 2012 Paralympics held in London (Games, 2021)
A New Framework
More information calls for added action! Prior to the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, the International Blind Sports Association (IBSA) approved a new concussion-related policy ("IBSA Football pioneers concussion policy | IBSA International Blind Sports Federation", 2021). According to this policy, para-athletes suspected of suffering from a concussion will be replaced temporarily by another para-athlete. This temporary concussion substitute (TCS) will play the match for a minimum of ten minutes while the concussed para-athlete will be assessed by medical professionals on whether they can play on the field. The introduction of these rules paves the way for an optimistic future as they are the first of their kind.
Mental Health Check-up
At Power of Patients, we stress on the importance of brain health and recovery. A healthy brain is imperative to tackling and effectively overcoming the obstacles that come along your way. To emphasize on this, we share with you a para-athlete’s experiences.
Paige Van Arsdale smiling warmly (Reardon, 2021)
Paige Van Arsdale is a professional skier diagnosed with a hemiplegic cerebral palsy ("Paige Van Arsdale - Alpine Skiing | Paralympic Athlete Profile", 2021). She had initially focused all of her energy towards competing in the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in South Korea. However, this goal was cut short in 2017 when she fell from a ski lift and suffered from a concussion. Shortly after this, she began noticing a shift in her emotions and overall behavior around her coaches and teammates. Upon her realization of this change in attitude, she sought treatment immediately and was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder (Reardon, 2021).
Despite all of this, Paige hopes to contend in the 2022 Paralympics and represent her country proudly. The Power of Patients dashboard strives to help Paige, and other professional athletes similar to Paige, in their journey towards recovery.
Our Role in Your Path towards Recovery
The first step in Paige’s path towards recovery was the realization that she needed immediate medical attention. This was subsequently followed by getting the right diagnosis for her condition and beginning her treatment right away, in order to compete once again at the Paralympics.
The Power of Patients dashboard can help quicken this process by helping you track your daily symptoms and triggers so that you are immediately aware of a change in your behavior or health. Our dashboard provides a feature that permits you to download and print out your reports in order to arrive at a correct diagnosis and accurately monitor changes in your health. You can also access all of our resources (including certain videos designed just for you), all at no cost! The best part of it all is that it is all for free!
How to get Involved: Become a part of the Largest Para-athlete Supported Movement
Launched before the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, WeThe15 is a sport-based human rights movement founded with the hope of creating a more inclusive world. It is spear-headed by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and the International Disability Alliance (IDA), making it one of the largest para-athlete supported movements to exist to date. It is also founded by a coalition of other organizations ranging from policy to entertainment who have each pledged to unite and change the attitudes of people towards a more embracing environment. The number of individuals suffering from disabilities is approximately 15%, which is the reason behind the title of this movement. The main goal of this movement is to insert individuals with disabilities into the heart of every company’s agenda. To get involved, we highly urge our readers to visit their website and contact them.
“Sport, and events such as the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, are hugely powerful vehicles to engage global audiences. By partnering with Special Olympics, Invictus Games, and Deaflympics, there will be at least one major international sport event for persons with disabilities to showcase WeThe15 each year between now and 2030. These sports events add great value to the campaign and underline the hugely positive impact sport can have on society. I strongly believe WeThe15 could be a real game-changer for persons with disabilities.” ("WeThe15: A global human rights movement for the 1.2 billion persons with disabilities", 2021)