UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

"I feel like a professional injured person" : non-elite athletes' experiences, appraisals, and coping strategies with persistent post-concussive symptoms Otamendi, Thalia


Approximately 15% of athletes who sustain concussions experience prolonged symptoms beyond the expected recovery timeline (10-14 days) (McCrory et al., 2013; McCrory et al., 2017). The presence of psychological distress can contribute to the lingering symptomology (Sandel et al., 2017), but there is limited knowledge on psychological processes (e.g., appraisal and coping patterns) through which it may be elicited and maintained. Non-elite athletes may be at a higher risk of prolonged recoveries due to having limited access to specialized concussion care compared to their elite counterparts (Putukian, Aubry & McCrory, 2009). This thematic analysis of semi-structured interviews explored experiences, appraisals and coping strategies of 12 non-elite athletes that on average experienced persistent post-concussive symptoms for 16 months. Three themes were identified. Evolving appraisals amidst concussion ambiguity suggested that a lack of recovery-related information available from health care practitioners allowed the participants to experience fluid understandings of their injury. While they initially perceived their concussion to be inconsequential, they eventually believed to have developed a serious health condition with organic origins and limited rehabilitation strategies. Burgeoning psychological distress highlighted how expectations of lasting negative consequences elicited growing distress for the participants regarding their health status, self-identity, and appropriate methods to manage their symptoms. They questioned whether they would ever be able to re-engage with their valued activities, and eventually prioritized work, school, and exercise over their return to organized sport. Lastly, “I’m just trying anything to get better” reflected participants’ transition from passive to more active coping methods in attempts to manage their ongoing symptoms. Positive reappraisal and acknowledging/addressing psychological recovery barriers (e.g., anxiety) seemed to positively impact recovery. This study enhances the understanding of persistent post-concussive symptoms through examination of the participants’ subjective experiences. Findings suggest that interventions should disseminate current knowledge on psychological aspects of concussion recovery to health care practitioners, so they can in turn communicate a more complete understanding of the injury to affected individuals. The goal of this knowledge transfer would be to reduce illness uncertainty, mitigate a source of psychological distress, and to promote adaptive appraisal and coping patterns.

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