Sport-related concussion is a growing concern for youth involved in recreational contact sports such as hockey, soccer, football and rugby, among others. Most individuals recover from a concussion within a short period of time (i.e., 30 days); however, a small percentage of youth (up to 20%) experience post-concussion symptoms that last longer than 30 days.

Research has helped to identify a number of risk factors associated with persistent symptoms, including: young age, the female sex and/or gender, various medical history factors (e.g., history of depression, anxiety or familial history of psychiatric illness) as well as a history of multiple prior concussions.

Persistent symptoms can not only prolong the time it takes for an athlete to return to their sport, but can also result in poor functional outcomes (e.g., decline in academic performance), impaired cognitive performance (e.g., memory impairment) and reduced quality of life.

In conjunction with Complete Concussion Management Inc. (CCMI), Tian Renton, a third year PhD student studying at the University of Toronto (Rehabilitation Sciences Institute), will carry out a program of research that seeks to further our understanding of persisting post-concussion symptoms.

Specifically, Tian is investigating if athletic identity can be used to predict mood (i.e., depression and anxiety symptoms) and functional outcomes (i.e., time until return to play is achieved) following concussion in adolescent athletes. Athletic identity is defined as “the extent to which an individual identifies with the athlete role, and looks to others for confirmation of that role.”

In order to answer her research question(s), Tian will conduct three studies with the help of interested and eligible CCMI athletes:

  • The first study aims to understand athletic identity and its relationship to depressive and anxiety symptoms among healthy, uninjured adolescent athletes.
  • The second study will investigate if athletic identity can be used to accurately predict time to functional recovery (i.e., return to play) among recently concussed adolescent athletes.
  • The third and final study will examine if athletic identity can be used to predict which athletes are at risk for developing problematic depressive and anxiety symptoms in the first 6 months following concussion.

Findings from Tian’s research will be used to inform the treatment and management of concussed adolescent athletes. For example, should a high athletic identity contribute to delayed recovery or poor mood outcomes following concussion, clinicians may see a benefit to helping young athletes diversify their identities to include activities other than athletics. Addressing mental health concerns that appear both before and after a suspected injury may also help to prevent persisting symptoms.

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How to Get Involved in Concussion Research?

Healthy and recently concussed male and female athletes ages 13 to 18 years old, whom are involved in a variety of contact sports (e.g., hockey, football) and various levels of competition (e.g., house league, rep) are invited to participate in these studies. Using an online data collection platform, athletes will be asked to complete a series of questionnaires.

Athletes will be asked to provide information about their: demographics (e.g., sex, age), medical history information (e.g., history of concussion or familial psychiatric illness), athletic identity, motivation, resilience and coping skills/abilities. Athletes will also be asked to report on any depression, anxiety and concussion symptoms they are currently experiencing. Upon enrolment into the study, all athletes (both healthy and concussed) will complete their questionnaires. Recently concussed athletes will be asked to complete similar questionnaires again at 1, 3 and 6 months post-injury.

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About the Author: Tian Renton

Tian Renton is a third year PhD student studying at the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute (The University of Toronto – U of T) under the supervision of Dr. Sidney Kennedy (MD). She first began working and conducting research in the field of brain injury about 6 years ago. Since that time, she has been publishing and presenting her research at international conferences around the world. During the academic year, she holds an undergraduate teaching position at U of T within the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education.

Tian is currently in the process of joining the College of Kinesiologists of Ontario (COKO). This clinical certification (r.Kin) will compliment her undergraduate education and current teaching position at U of T. This certification will also allow her to work one-on-one with concussed athletes. Through the use of exercise and mental health wellness coaching, she hopes to assist athletes affected by persistent post-concussion symptoms.

Looking ahead, Tian sees herself teaching at the undergraduate/graduate level at an educational institution like U of T. She also interested in conducting clinical research alongside like-minded collaborators at one of the many research-intensive hospitals in Toronto.

When Tian is not immersed in her work, she likes to spend her time being active outdoors: beach walks with her pooch Clover, beach volleyball, longboarding, running, ice hockey and snowboarding. As an advocate for physical fitness and health, she seeks to educate, empower and inspire others to be active for life.

Concussion Research

Tian Renton, a third year PhD student at the University of Toronto (Rehabilitation Sciences Institute) will carry out a concussion research program to further our understanding of persisting post-concussion symptoms.