Concussions have become synonymous with sports. Most of the research has focused on adults, particularly college football players. But it appears that a different group may be at greatest risk for sports-related head injuries: middle school, female soccer players.
In similar sports, girls have higher rates of concussions than boys. The highest rate for each gender is found in football for boys and soccer for girls. The rates of concussions are slightly higher for middle school aged female soccer players than for male high school football players — 1.2 vs. 1.03 per 1000 athlete exposure hours in practice and games, respectively.
The data “suggest that the need for medical supervision for girls’ elite youth soccer may be at least equal to that for high school sports,” said Cynthia LaBella of the Department of Pediatrics, Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, in a JAMA review article.
Concussions are traumatic brain injuries characterized by, among other things:
- a direct blow to the head or blow to the body that transmits an “impulsive” force to the head
- rapid onset of short-lived neurologic impairment that resolves spontaneously
- possible loss of consciousness
LaBella’s review of an earlier JAMA study conducted by O’Kane and colleagues noted that most other studies “only included concussions for which the athlete sought medical attention from an athletic trainer or a physician, while the study by O’Kane, et al, e-mailed a weekly survey to the athletes’ parents to report whether their daughter experienced a hit to the head resulting in symptoms consistent with the diagnosis of concussion.”
Those parental surveys helped to determine that most of the soccer players returned to action without seeking medical attention after being hit on the head. It is likely, therefore, that the official concussion numbers are even higher for these female athletes.
Dr. LaBella recommends that doctors improve concussion awareness through simple discussion with youth athletes and their parents — particularly emphasizing the need to seek medical attention before returning to the game.
“Not only are children and adolescents at increased risk for concussion compared with adults, but they are also more likely to have prolonged recovery, with symptoms lasting greater than two weeks, and more severe and longer-lasting symptoms with subsequent concussions,” said LaBella.
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