The American Journal of Sports Medicine studied the rate of concussions in high school athletics from 2008 through 2010. Of the 1,936 reported concussions during the study, 47% were suffered playing or practicing football. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to most sports parents and coaches. After all, when two 17-year-old boys are running full speed into each other there’s plenty of force to go around. But number two on the list wasn’t another full contact sport like lacrosse or hockey, or even a sport like wrestling where athletes intentionally throw each other around…it was girls’ soccer.
Preventing concussions among youth athletes, as well as understanding the long-term effect of concussions on children’s’ brains, has become an increasingly important mission among many sports administrators, coaches, parents, and the medical community. Even a seemingly light “ding” can have serious, and immediate, consequences on a youth athlete. Even if a player isn’t knocked unconscious they can experience severe headaches, dizziness, nausea, are unable to concentrate, and more. Some athletes seem to recover within a few weeks while others suffer for months. Many studies have shown that previously concussed players are much more likely to suffer a second concussion and the deadly possibility of second-impact syndrome has many parents concerned about when it’s okay to let their kids back on the field.
Doctors still aren’t sure of how a concussion will impact a developing brain. Is the brain more fragile in youth athletes and less likely to completely recover following a concussion? Or is a young brain actually more likely to “bounce back?” As of right now they cannot say for sure.
Since concussion prevention in youth sports has become such a talked-about issue, many organizations have been studying concussions among youth athletes and have uncovered some very interesting facts, especially among female athletes:
- Females participating in high school sports now have a higher incidence rate of sport-related concussions than do males (Gessel et al., 2007; Powell & Barber-Foss, 1999; Covassin et al., 2003)
- In a ranking of high school and college sports on the basis of concussions as a percentage of all injuries, women’s soccer and basketball ranked highest, followed by football and men’s soccer (Gessel et al., 2007).
- Among collegiate ice hockey players, women sustain higher levels of concussions than men (Hootman, Dick & Agel, 2007).
Are female athletes actually more susceptible to concussions? Some in the medical community hypothesize that since girls’ heads are smaller and their neck muscles aren’t as strong they may not be as good at absorbing shock as their male counterparts. When two players collide (or a player hit the floor hard) her head is snapped back and that sudden stop motion can cause a concussion. We know that men’s and women’s bodies dramatically change shape after puberty and that female athletes are more likely to suffer from torn ACLs than men partially because of how their bodies develop. Could the same hold true for concussions?
There is also a theory that female athletes might be more willing to self-diagnose themselves and seek medical attention than their male counterparts, and it’s not that girls are actually more likely to suffer from a concussion, just that they are more likely to report it.
Regardless of what sport your daughter plays it’s important to understand that concussions can happen at any time. Even in a sport like gymnastics, where it’s just her on the mat/bar/beam, she could suffer from a concussion if she were to fall and hit the mat wrong. Parents and coaches need to learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of concussions and pull players immediately from the field. While we may want to teach our kids to be tough and resilient, her future and long-term well-being is not worth a few extra minutes on the soccer field.