CHICAGO — With more research pointing to the concussion risks associated with playing tackle football, it’s reasonable to think that boys run a higher risk of suffering the dangerous brain injury than girls. A surprising new study, however, finds that it’s actually female high school athletes who are more likely to suffer a concussion than boys, believe it or not.
Researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago reviewed a sample of injury data amongst high school athletes in nine sports from 2005 to 2015, focusing on two distinct periods: 2005 through 2009, and 2010 through 2015.
The earlier period represented a time prior to the widespread enactment of traumatic brain injury (TBI) laws that would put stipulations on when young affected players could begin training and playing again, in addition to setting guidelines for the imposition of liability.
By 2010, TBI laws had been enacted in all 50 states and D.C., allowing researchers to analyze the impact of new legislation over a five-year window.
The researchers’ general finding was that female high school athletes were significantly more likely to suffer concussions than their male counterparts, all else equal.
Girls who played soccer were found to be at particular risk, clocking the high concussion rate of any of the nine sports examined.
“While American football has been both scientifically and colloquially associated with the highest concussion rates, our study found that girls, and especially those who play soccer, may face a higher risk,” says Dr. Wellington Hsu, professor of orthopaedics at the university’s Feinberg School of Medicine and lead author of the study, in a university news release. “The new knowledge presented in this study can lead to policy and prevention measures to potentially halt these trends.”
From 2005 to 2015, the largest increases in concussion rates were found in two sports across genders: boys’ baseball and girls’ volleyball.
Alarmingly, it would seem as if concussion rates are on the rise: despite participation rates only increasing by four percent, the reported rate of concussions more than doubled.
Of the 40,000-plus injuries reported over the period, nearly 6,400 were concussion-related.
It is believed that the rise in concussion rates doesn’t reflect the incidence of brain impact as much as newfound awareness of the symptoms of concussions.
Female soccer players are believed to be at particular risk due to a lack of protective gear, the sport’s physical nature, and the game’s emphasis on “headers.”
According to the release, 300,000 high school athletes suffer concussions or TBI injuries each year. Because they have a lesser resistance to brain damage, a concussed teen faces a greater risk of severe symptoms such as headaches, memory loss, confusion and dizziness.
The study was presented March 14 at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) in San Diego.