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The show must go on? Many theater performers, crew members don’t report head injuries

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Athens, OH — Blows to the head are common among performing arts theater personnel but often go unreported by workers who may not understand how serious head injuries are, according to a recent Ohio University study.

Researchers surveyed 209 theater workers – mostly from the production side – to determine the history of head impacts, concussion symptoms and concussion management in the industry.

Results showed that 67 percent of respondents experienced at least one head impact, while 39 percent reported having had more than five head injuries. Most concerning to the researchers was that 70 percent of staff who took hits to the head continued to work after the incidents.

“Considering the negative consequences of both multiple subconcussive impacts and additional impacts prior to metabolic healing of the brain from a concussion, these data are cause for alarm,” the researchers said.

Even when the workers experienced concussion symptoms, 45 percent said they did not report the injuries. Of those who sought medical treatment and were diagnosed with a concussion, 28 percent said they were released to return to theater activities and given no treatment or recovery guidance.

Researcher Jeff Russell believes lack of industry awareness – as well as workers’ fear of losing pay or a job if they take time off – may contribute to under-reporting of head injuries among theater workers.

“You don’t think of performing artists the same way you do sports athletes,” Russell, an assistant professor in Ohio University’s College of Health Sciences and Professions and director of the Clinic for Science and Health in Artistic Performance, said in an April 4 press release. “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. There are a variety of ‘booby traps’ in the arts world where an injury is likely to occur.”

Russell recommends that theater staff wear head protection while working.

The study was published in the March issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

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