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  • Concussions Are Common in Theater Workers

    Theater Technicians and Actors Report High Rates of Head Impacts

    Two-thirds of theater technicians and actors have experienced head impacts related to working in theater environments, according to a survey study in the March Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

    Although many of these injuries cause concussion symptoms, theater personnel usually continue their work onstage or backstage, according to the study by Jeffrey A. Russell, PhD, and Brooke M. Daniell, MEd, of Ohio University, Athens. They write, "Theater venues are replete with opportunities for head impacts, particularly for those engaged in production and technical roles."

    The researchers performed an online survey of 209 workers engaged in the theater industry. Most respondents were involved in production or technical roles, such as lighting technician or stage manager. As a group they were highly experienced, with most working in theater for a decade or longer.

    Sixty-seven percent of respondents reported at least one theater-related head impact during their careers. Nearly 40 percent said they had more than five injuries. Most respondents continued participating in theater activities after head impacts—even though most of the injuries resulted in concussion-like symptoms. Nearly half of workers did not report the incident.

    Most participants who saw a healthcare professional were diagnosed with a concussion. However, of those diagnosed with concussions, 28 percent did not receive recommended care, such as a graded protocol for resuming work activities.

    While awareness of concussion has increased in recent years, nearly all research on this issue has focused on athletes. Theater environments may include unique hazards for head injuries, such as low lighting levels, backstage equipment, and stage combat.

    The new study strongly suggests that theater professionals, like athletes, have high rates of head impacts and concussion symptoms. However, these theater-related injuries often go unreported and undiagnosed, and usually don't receive recommended treatment.

    "A move is needed toward adopting methods that increase awareness of the prevalence and seriousness of occupational injury in theater," Dr. Russell and Ms. Daniell conclude. They also call for steps to ensure that theater personnel have access to "definitive, evidence-based healthcare" for work-related concussions.

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    Citation — Russell JA, Daniell BM.Concussion in theater: a cross-sectional survey of prevalence and management in actors and theater technicians. J Occup Environ Med. 2018;60(3):205-10.

    About the Author — Dr. Russell may be contacted for interviews at jeff.russell@ohio.edu.

    About ACOEM — ACOEM (www.acoem.org), an international society of 4,000 occupational physicians and other health care professionals, provides leadership to promote optimal health and safety of workers, workplaces, and environments.

    About the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine — The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (www.joem.org) is the official journal of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Edited to serve as a guide for physicians, nurses, and researchers, the clinically oriented research articles are an excellent source for new ideas, concepts, techniques, and procedures that can be readily applied in the industrial or commercial employment setting.