There is a rising tide of awareness when it comes to concussions in sports (see “the concussion discussion”). A recent study demonstrated that from 1997-1998 to 2007-2008, concussions rates in high school athletes increased 4.2-fold. Rates rose in all 12 sports monitored, so it is likely an improvement in diagnosing, rather than some trend in biology or athletics. However, the most disturbing part of this study was that females were twice as likely to experience concussions as their male counterparts. There is now evidence that there exist quantifiable differences in outcomes between the sexes after concussions:
“Female athletes had significantly greater declines in simple and complex reaction times relative to preseason baseline levels, and they reported more postconcussion symptoms compared with males. As a group, females were cognitively impaired approximately 1.7 times more frequently than males following concussions”. So why are females more susceptible to concussions? This video explores possible explanations including differences in anatomy (namely neck strength) and self reporting between boys and girls.
Another study followed NCAA athletes over 3 years and found that 3.6% of females athletes reported concussions in practice and 9.3% in games. In contrast, male athletes reported concussions more often after practices (5.2%) and less often after games (6.4%) than girls. A recent 2011 paper reports that both girls and boys report headaches as the major symptom of a concussion. However, differences are apparent in the secondary symptoms reported by the two groups. Whereas boys report confusion and disorientation, girls most often report sensitivity to sound and drowsiness.
And then there is the case of women’s lacrosse, which has the highest concussion rate among all women’s sports. A major factor can be found in the rules, where girls are not allowed to lay with helmets. With swinging sticks and balls flying at high speeds, concussions seem like an inevitability. Check out this video on the controversy surrounding the high rate of concussions in lacrosse:
MSNBC ran a piece questioning the utility of concussion-reducing headbands being sold to girls for soccer.