Physical Health Concerns for Collegiate Athletes
Physical Health Concerns for Collegiate Athletes
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While athletes may be in excellent physical shape compared to other students, they have to take extra precautions to avoid injuries and may be susceptible to broken bones, strained muscles, and concussions as a direct result of playing their sports. Having health insurance, then, is particularly important for students who may be more likely to be injured than the general public. Student Caffé’s articles on physical health detail topics that are relevant to all students, athletes included, while this section focuses entirely on student-athletes.

Disclaimer: Any information found within our website is for general educational and informational purposes only. Such information is not intended nor otherwise implied to be medical or legal advice by Student Caffé Corporation. Such information is by no means complete or exhaustive, and as a result, such information does not encompass all conditions, disorders, health-related issues, respective treatments, or recovery plans. You should always consult your physician, other health care provider, or lawyer to determine the appropriateness of this information for your own situation or should you have any questions regarding a medical condition, treatment or recovery plan, or legal situation. Click to read the full disclaimer.

Health Insurance

Health insurance helps with any costs that you may incur during routine visits to the doctor, when filling prescriptions, or when treating an injury or illness. Typically, you are required to pay a premium, or a monthly health insurance bill. Then, should you get sick or visit the doctor, you will be required to pay a certain amount out of pocket, after which your insurance policy will cover some or the rest of the costs; how you and your insurance company split the bill will be laid out in your “Summary of Benefits and Coverage.” Once you pay a certain total amount in out-of-pocket medical expenses, your insurance will kick in to cover the rest of your costs for the year. Unfortunately, this will not reduce or negate your premium; you must continue to pay for your insurance every month. Most colleges require students to have a minimum level of health insurance before they are permitted to enroll.

Why do I need health insurance?

Student-athletes are open to a whole host of physical problems besides the common cold, seasonal flu, and mononucleosis, which run rampant across college campuses every semester. Injuries, such as sprains, breaks, shin splints, and muscle strain, are all common for sports players. Students may also be susceptible to concussions, if tackling is common, or heat stroke during summer training. With the proper preventative techniques, many of these injuries can be avoided. If the worst is to happen, however, students need to be prepared. Having health insurance will cut down on your out-of-pocket costs.

What resources are available to me as an athlete?

Many colleges hire athletic trainers who are available to student-athletes free of charge. Trainers typically attend practices, games, and championship events so that they are readily available if a student-athlete needs immediate medical treatment. These trainers are knowledgeable in taping techniques, conditioning exercises to strengthen muscle groups, how to use ice and heat after extensive muscle use or injury, and general preventative measures. It is important to note that trainers are available to Division I, II, and III student-athletes and often to those who play club sports. Students who participate in intramural sports, however, may not be eligible to visit the athletic trainer. In this case, visiting the health clinic on campus and getting a referral to a specialist is the best option.

What is NCAA Catastrophic Insurance?

In addition to the health insurance mandated by an institution, the NCAA has stricter rules regarding health insurance for student-athletes. To be a member of the team, students must have coverage as mandated by the NCAA, otherwise they will not be allowed to practice or play in games. If an NCAA student-athlete does get injured and if costs for medical care exceed $90,000, the NCAA has a catastrophic insurance plan that kicks into action to help care for the injured student. Before the $90,000 is reached, however, students and their primary insurance company are liable for all medical costs. During championships, student-athletes get additional medical coverage by the NCAA. This extra insurance covers the first $90,000 in medical care costs after which the NCAA’s catastrophic insurance plan activates.

The NCAA catastrophic insurance plan will provide continuous custodial or home health care up to $100,000 annually or private duty nursing up to $250,000 annually to any student-athlete who meets the $90,000 deductible and is determined to need care by a medical professional. If a student-athlete is rendered completely disabled by an injury, the catastrophic plan will also provide disability benefits and benefits for special expenses (e.g., modifications to a home or vehicle for enhanced mobility), college education, and family adjustment expenses (e.g., training for a family member to perform rehabilitative functions or travel for family members to the hospital). If a student dies from an injury, the plan provides a $25,000 death benefit.

To learn the answers to more NCAA-related insurance questions, click here.

Injury Prevention

Athletes use their whole bodies to compete in sports. Some sports, like football or wrestling, are inherently contact sports. Others, like soccer and basketball, may also involve contact with other players. Finally, gymnasts and cross country runners do not physically contact other players but require full use of their body to succeed. Regardless of the sport being played, injuries are not only possible but likely. There are a few tricks that athletes can use to prevent injuries and stay at the top of their game.

  • Stay hydrated.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet. Don’t skip out on carbohydrates, protein, or fats. All are important sources of energy.
  • Wear required protective equipment.
  • Wear the right shoes for the sport and make sure they are the right size. Replace them frequently; if you start getting blisters in new places, notice that your treads are worn, or notice that the interior of the shoe is stretched out, it’s time for a new pair.
  • Wear sunscreen if practice or competitions are outdoors.
  • Stretch before and after practicing or competing.
  • Integrate both cardio and strength training into conditioning to balance which muscle groups are being used and avoid injuries caused by repetition.
  • Ice down after practice.
  • Talk to an athletic trainer if anything feels painful. Don’t try to push through it without getting a consultation first; this could result in a worse injury.


One of the most widely talked about sports injuries is the concussion. A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that occurs when someone gets hit in the head. This occurs often in sports, mostly in football, when athletes are running at others headfirst in order to make a tackle or when their heads slam into the ground during a tackle. Football, however, isn’t the only sport that can result in concussions. Anything where an athlete may fall and hit his or her head or get hit in the head by a ball or any other object may result in concussion.

What are the symptoms of a concussion?

Concussions, though common, can be very serious. If an athlete is hit in the head, he or she may develop a concussion without ever losing consciousness. Some concussions do, however, result in a loss of consciousness or short-term memory loss. When a player is suspected to have a concussion, he or she should stop playing immediately and talk to a doctor.

Symptoms of a concussion include trouble remembering things and being confused or unable to concentrate. Nausea, headache, a highly emotional state, trouble balancing, and change in sleeping patterns may also be symptoms. The more severe the concussion, the more likely a person is to be exhibiting symptoms. The only treatment for a concussion is rest and relaxation, however, the person should still be monitored. If there are any changes in behavior, seizures, swelling of a pupil, or a loss of consciousness, the person should be taken to the emergency room.

Why should athletes be concerned about concussions?

The NCAA and the Department of Defense began a study of concussions in athletes and service members in 2014. They found that in the past five years, over 10,000 student-athletes were diagnosed with concussions and that 32% of those athletes were football players. In addition to football players, the athletes most at risk for concussions were wrestlers, men’s and women’s ice hockey players, and women’s soccer players.

Multiple concussions can lead to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which is a degenerative disease in which a protein called Tau forms and spreads through the brain. This causes the brain to lose mass over time; neurons to cease to function; and memory, judgement, and normal behavior to be impaired. Unfortunately, multiple head traumas that are not severe enough to cause a concussion can also lead to CTE, meaning that individuals who play a rough sport (or play their sport roughly) but who’ve never suffered from a concussion are also at risk. This repetitive hitting behavior may be found in football, hockey, boxing, wrestling, rugby, and soccer, and is traumatic for the brain.

Currently, CTE is untreatable and impossible to diagnose in a living person. A definitive diagnosis of CTE can only be given after death and discovered during an autopsy. There are symptoms associated with CTE, however. These symptoms may include irritability, aggression, changes in mood, depression, paranoia, memory loss, and dementia. Typically, a person affected with CTE would first display changes to their mood, then, over time, begin to exhibit cognitive impairment. If you are concerned that you may develop CTE, there are ways to treat the symptoms. First and foremost, though, you’ll have to protect your brain from further trauma.

If I have suffered from a concussion, can I keep playing my sport?

A single concussion may not be enough to make you choose to leave your sport, but multiple concussions should give you pause, particularly if the associated symptoms worsen with each successive concussion. You should always talk to your doctor.

Since the brain and a person’s cognitive future is at risk from repeated concussions and subconcussive head traumas, a player may want to seriously weigh his or her love for the game against their emotional and cognitive future. Dr. Kerasidis, writing for Psychology Today, states that three concussions are enough to cause a higher risk of long-term neurological damage. This can, in turn, decrease life expectancy. In conjunction with their doctors, student-athletes who have suffered from repeated concussions or traumas should consider whether they will continue to play.


Personal health, which goes hand in hand with both physical health and campus safety, is of the utmost importance to all students. All interpersonal relationships, whether they are friendships, acquaintanceships, or romantic relationships, must be built on mutual consent and respect.

What is consent?

A consensual experience is one in which all parties are willing participants. If you give your consent, you are giving your permission. If you do not give your consent, you are not giving your permission. If someone initiates a sexual encounter with you despite not having your permission, this could be considered a sexual assault.

Why is it important for student-athletes to know about consent?

Collegiate athletes, particularly those who play for Division I and Division II sports teams, are often well known on campus. They may feature on local or national television, build a fan base, and bring prestige and attention to their schools. Athletes, then, have a particular responsibility to their schools as high-profile students. They must show respect for both the college and the sport, including their teammates and fellow students. It is unfortunate to realize, then, that nearly 33% of sexual assaults on college campuses are committed by collegiate athletes. The same study found that athletes are nearly six times more likely to commit these types of crimes than nonathletes. Students who compete in football, basketball, hockey, wrestling and boxing are overrepresented in this group, while student-athletes who compete in swimming, tennis, and running commit sexual assault at the same rate as nonathletes.

Of course, athletes do not have an innate predilection for sexual assault. There are many things that go into it: a culture of getting what they want (athletes are often given scholarship money, television time, or special housing), a culture of aggression (the more aggressive they are at the sport, the better the chances of winning), and a team culture (teams can fall into the pattern of doing everything together, and when one student makes a choice, teammates may be inclined to follow). Lisa Wade, author of American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campuswrites “On average, athletes are more likely than other students on campus to identify with hypermasculinity and to accept ‘rape myths’ to justify sexual assaults. Evidence also suggests they’re more likely to be confused about consent and admit to having committed acts of sexual aggression.” It all comes back to athletes having star status on campus.

The fact that sexual assault is common on college campuses at all is a problem, but the high prevalence of these crimes by athletes, who have the responsibility to behave as role models, is heartbreaking.

How can I use my position on the team to advocate for consent?

Instead of using aggression to harm other students, athletes should instead focus on being role models and practicing respect for others. Being a role model can be as simple as holding the door open for fellow students after class, but it could also involve taking a public stand against sexual assault. Since athletes are generally well known on campus and do hold positions of high status, they may have the power to influence other students and decrease the rate at which other athletes (and nonathletes) commit sexual assaults.

Where can I learn more information?

You can learn more about consent, safety, and the movement to prevent sexual assault on college campuses by reading more about consent on Student Caffé or on the Pact5 website.

Page last updated: 02/2019