Football is the sport we all think of when it comes to concussion. With the emphasis on recognition of the signs of head injury and the NFL’s attention to current and former players who have sustained repeated injury, concussion has been in the news. And that’s a good thing.
What is a little surprising and frankly poorly understood is that high school-aged girls sustain more concussions than boys and take longer to recover when they do occur. Girls who play interscholastic sports are at greatest risk. Most girls’ sports aren’t thought to be high contact but many end up being as rough as an NHL hockey game.
Girls’ soccer is the most recent sport in the spotlight. Collisions with other players and improper technique when heading the ball are thought to be the biggest concussion causes, but it seems that girls are actually more susceptible to brain injury than boys.
Some suggest that heading the ball be banned from youth sports as a strategy to prevent concussion, but the data on this as a cause of brain injury is mixed. If good technique is employed using strong neck muscles to steady and support the head, heading has not been shown to be a cause of concussion.
Girls’ sports are increasingly intense and sports like lacrosse, field hockey, basketball and softball have all been associated with concussion risk. Since 1 in 3 children is injured in the course of playing sports, it is important to be aware that brain injury is common in girls and since they are more likely than boys to have concussions, being aware of the signs is important.
Any athlete who has had her “bell rung” or has any disorientation, dizziness, or headache following a hit (even if it isn’t a direct head hit) needs to be pulled from playing and followed up by a medical provider. Waiting until all symptoms of head injury are resolved (including difficulty sustaining attention, headache, sleep disruption, dizziness, and emotionality, to name a few) is essential to protect teenagers. A second injury before the first has fully resolved is a recipe for long-term symptoms and some kids will never be quite the same again.
Coaches and parents need to be sensitive to the signs of brain injury in all athletes, but with the data suggesting girls are at even greater risk, taking girls out of the game makes sense when there’s any question of a head injury.