Concussion Risks: Increased Arm Injuries in Collegiate Football Players

| By Dr. Jennifer Hunnicutt

Study indicates a notable increase in injury risk post-concussion, emphasizing the long-term effects concussions can have on athletes.

Concussions can have prolonged impacts on athletes that extend well beyond the brain. Did you know that they also affect other parts of the body? 

A recent research study on football players within the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) revealed that concussions may significantly increase the risk of subsequent arm injuries.

How can this be? Let’s dive further into this research study (Gardner et. al, 2024) and discuss what this means for athletes. 

The Research Study

Researchers from the University of Southern California identified 160 NCAA Division I male football players who met the study’s criteria. This included focusing on those who experienced their first concussion between 2017 and 2021. The records of each athlete were reviewed for any arm injuries that occurred 90 days post-concussion. Arm injuries included acute incidences to the shoulder, elbow, forearm, wrist, hand, and fingers. 

The statistical analyses revealed that the likelihood of sustaining an arm injury post-concussion was 2.36 times higher compared to the year before the concussion. The most common injuries were observed in the shoulder, accounting for 58% of the injuries, followed by injuries to the hand (19%) and elbow (15%).

Why do Concussions Lead to Injuries Elsewhere in the Body? 

The exact causes are still under investigation. While the correlation between concussions and injuries in the lower extremity is more established, research in the upper extremity is still needed. This study was the first to investigate this topic in college football players. 

Researchers have investigated two theories that may explain the link between concussions and injuries to the extremities. The first concerns concussions causing deficiencies in balance, walking, and dual-tasking. Dual-tasking is performing a movement task with a cognitive task. Playing sports involves dual-tasking, like dribbling a soccer ball while thinking about and planning the next pass/play.

The second theory is related to a change in perception-action coupling behavior, which affects the way athletes with prior concussions perceive and respond to their environments. It should be noted that further research is needed to explore these hypotheses. 

What This Means for Athletes

The findings of the research study indicate a notable increase in injury risk post-concussion, emphasizing the long-term effects concussions can have on athletes.

For athletes, understanding the potential for increased injury risk after a concussion can inform their approach to recovery and return to play. It stresses the importance of not only focusing on the head and neurological aspects but also on the potential vulnerabilities in other parts of the body. 


A key component for a successful recovery is active participation and commitment to rehabilitation post-concussion. The results of this study support the need for prolonged rehabilitation. Current concussion management protocols may need to be adjusted to better protect athletes from subsequent, long-term injuries. A comprehensive approach to rehabilitation that extends beyond the typical concussion symptoms will be crucial.


Gardner CH, Kotlier JL, Fathi A, Castonguay J, Thompson AA, Bolia IK, Petrigliano FA, Liu JN, Weber AE, Gamradt SC. NCAA football players are at higher risk of upper extremity injury after first-time concussion. Phys Sportsmed. 2024 Mar 7:1-5. doi: 10.1080/00913847.2024.2327275. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 38454779.

Dr. Jennifer Hunnicutt

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