The University of Ohio recently conducted a study on a surprising correlation between a rise in traumatic brain injuries and the performing arts. Much attention is being paid to sports–particularly football– and their impact on the human brain. There are a number of cases that have arisen of former players confessing that they have dealt with chronic brain issues, such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy(CTE), since leaving sports, with some players tragically taking their own lives after developing these severe mental problems. CTE has become one of the most well-known diseases to come out of these findings because it, unfortunately, cannot be accurately diagnosed until after death.
Former pro athletes such as Junior Seau, Andrew Waters, and Jovan Belcher were all confirmed to have had CTE after their deaths. All men had tragically taken their own lives, after developing severe depression, of which their CTE was suspected of playing a cause in. In Belcher’s case, he had also murdered his girlfriend before committing suicide.
Sports are, of course, not the only area where people could possibly develop these sorts of injuries. The performing arts, which involves a lot of physical activity, has now been linked to a rise in TBIs as well. The University of Ohio study, co-authored by s co-authored by Jeff Russell, an assistant professor in Ohio University’s College of Health Sciences, and Brooke Daniell, who collected data for the study as a senior athletic training undergraduate in the School of Applied Health Sciences and Wellness honors program, revealed some startling information.
According to their research, 67% of people surveyed had experienced at least one head injury that was theater related, 39% had suffered more than five, and 77% had injured their head at least three times. Out of those numbers, 70% admitted to having concussion-related symptoms. These are rather grim numbers, to say the least.
When asked why this was such new information, Russell said:
“There are probably several reasons for non-reporting…In this particular industry, they don’t recognize how serious the injury is and they’re not accustomed to having healthcare close by like a sports team would. Some will keep going because if they don’t work, they don’t get paid. Some don’t want to be seen as not tough enough, particularly in the stunt industry.”
One of those surveyed, Fior Tat, a sophomore studying theatre at Ohio, confessed to hitting her head and then “feeling a little off.” She also admitted that if an injury such as this had occurred during a show, she would have performed through the pain. “You just don’t want someone to tell you that you can’t do it,” Tat said.
Much like their counterparts in sports, people are afraid that if they say they are injured, then they will be replaced and lose work.
Russell went out to elaborate further:
“You don’t think of performing artists the same way you do sports athletes. Football is about collision. You don’t think about that in performing arts. They’re doing their work where they’re building things, moving equipment and often working backstage where it’s dark,”
This news raises concerns for youth participating in theater programs and whether or not better advice and precautions should be introduced to prevent injuries such as this. According to Russell, a guidebook to theater safety that is issued to those participating in performing arts includes less than one page on head protection.
Russell went on to say that all those participating in theater productions should wear proper headgear in an effort to prevent such injuries and even emphasized that the University of Ohio requires students to do so.
He went on to say that head injuries in this industry must be treated with the same attention as those in professional sports and that someone’s brain is more important than any production or performance. Let’s hope that studies such as these cause people to raise awareness surrounding TBIs in performing arts.