Head Injuries and Concussions Common in Theater Work and Performing Arts

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Jeffrey A. (Jeff) Russell, PhD, AT, FIADMS Science and Health in Artistic Performance Division of Athletic Training, School of Applied Health Sciences and Wellness Ohio University Athens, OH 45701

Dr. Jeff Russell

Jeffrey A. (Jeff) Russell, PhD, AT, FIADMS
Science and Health in Artistic Performance
Division of Athletic Training, School of Applied Health Sciences and Wellness
Ohio University
Athens, OH 45701

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?



Response: Everyone knows that enormous attention is given to concussions in sports today. Those involved in performing arts experience many head impacts, too; yet, they receive neither the attention nor the specialized care for concussions that athletes do.

At Ohio University’s Clinic for Science and Health in Artistic Performance (SHAPe Clinic) that I direct, we were seeing a number of theater students suffer concussions. So, Brooke Daniell and I decided explore this trend more closely. This is the first known published research to evaluate the prevalence of head impacts in theater personnel. In the sample we studied, which comprised predominantly those involved in various aspects of theater production, the prevalence of receiving at least one head impact in a theater career was 67%. Of those who sustained at least one head impact from theater, 77% reported three or more head impacts, and 39% reported more than five impacts. More troubling, of those who said they had received a head impact that was accompanied by concussion-like symptoms, 70% indicated that they continued their work, and half of those did not report the incident to anyone.

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report? 

Response: It is important to be aware of head impacts as an occupational hazard in theater. Often we watch performances in theaters and other performing arts, enjoying the wonder of the artistic presentation without appreciating the unseen dangers. It is crucial to improve concussion education and management in the theater and entertainment occupations because the dangers are significant. There are many reasons why people hesitate to disclose a blow to the head when they receive one. Truly, a cultural shift is needed so that theater workers are willing to report their injuries and have the opportunity to obtain appropriate healthcare that is informed by current concussion research. This is only the beginning of our investigations on this topic. 

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work? 

Response: We will expand our research to include fields related to theater, and we will work on increasing our ability to make our research results known throughout the artistic communities. These personnel are incredibly talented, high performance athlete-artists who need and deserve quality protection, assessment, and treatment measures. We must hone in on how to counteract the stigma against reporting injuries, especially injuries to the head. In short, there is plenty of work to do. 

MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: Performing arts medicine is still an emerging field of healthcare. As an athletic trainer, professor, and researcher I am grateful for the opportunity to serve those in performing arts. It is fascinating work.

Neither my co-author, Brooke Daniell, nor I have any disclosures to make with regard to this research project. 


Jeffrey A. Russell, Brooke M. Daniell. Concussion in Theater. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 2018; 60 (3): 205 DOI: 1097/JOM.0000000000001236 

Free access to the publication at: bit.ly/theaterconcussions

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