Female Athletes and Brain Injuries

James F. Humphreys & Associates, L.C represents people who have suffered head injuries through the negligence of others. Such injuries often occur during sports, as anyone who has followed the recent developments in the National Football League will be well aware. But men who play professional football are not the only ones at risk. Serious head injuries can also occur at the high school and college levels, in a variety of sports, and female athletes may be particularly susceptible.  

Recent research indicates that female athletes are more prone to head injury than their male counterparts playing similar sports, and that when head injuries occur, their injuries tend to be more serious and long lasting.  More research needs to be done, however, into why such differences exist, and how to better protect female athletes from sports related injuries. Various theories exist as to why female athletes have higher reported incidences of concussions and different recoveries, and it is possible that multiple factors may be involved.

One theory is that female athletes are more likely to report head injuries and their symptoms than their male counterparts. According to Katherine Snedaker, executive director of the nonprofit PinkConcussion, 79% of male athletes fail to report concussions, compared to 70% for females.

Another popular theory, and the one which has probably attracted the most attention, is that female athletes tend to have lighter heads and weaker neck muscles than male athletes. This leads to more instability and greater “sloshing” of the brain within the skull when an impact occurs. The neck muscles of female athletes do not fully mature until about age 14, and some experts believe that it might be helpful to limit heading in girls’ soccer prior to that age.

Less access to protective head gear and differences in how sports are played have  also been suggested as reasons for more injuries among female athletes. In a recent study from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, the authors “hypothesize that girls may face a greater risk of concussions and other injuries in soccer due to a lack of protective gear, an emphasis on in-game contact and the practice of “headers”—hitting the ball with your head.” A recent release by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons also “suggests that [gender differences may result because] adequate protective equipment is less readily available for female athletes, even as the emphasis on physical play in girls’sports continues to grow.”

As for differences in outcome, some studies have considered the fact that women may be more likely to have pre- existing conditions such as a history of migraines, depression and anxiety disorder that are exacerbated by head injuries.

Another theory posits that fluctuations in hormonal levels tend to influence healing from head injuries. This theory finds support in studies indicating that gender related differences in incidence, symptoms and length of recovery start showing up at puberty when hormone levels change, that symptoms begin to converge again after menopause, and that recoveries seem to be related to when an injury occurs during a woman’s menstrual cycle.  

Differences in blood flow to the brain and glucose metabolism may also play a role in gender related differences pertaining to concussion.

At this time, there is limited understanding of the higher incidence of concussions and more prolonged symptoms among female athletes because most of the prior research has focused on males,  even though science recognizes that male and female brains differ in many ways in terms of activity patterns, anatomy, chemistry and physiology.

If you or a loved one has suffered  a serious brain injury because of someone else’s negligence, please contact us at 304-881-0652 (local) or 877-341-2595 (toll free) for a free initial consultation. You may also contact us through our website, www.jfhumphreys.com.   

In a recent analysis of college athletic injuries, women softball players suffered concussions at twice the rate of male players, and women also had higher rates for basketball and soccer. In another study involving high school athletes, female soccer players had twice the concussion rate of boys. Marjorie a. Snyder, “Girls Suffer Sports Concussions at a Higher Rate Than Boys. Why is that Overlooked?” The Washington Post, February 10, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/02/10/our-effort-to-reduce…

Among injured high school athletes, more females report sensitivity to light, sensitivity to noise, nausea and drowsiness. Bob Roehr, “Concussions Affect Women More Adversely Than Men,” Scientific American, March 9, 2016, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/concussions-affect-women-more-adversely-than…  

According to a study of high school athletes who visited a sports medicine practice in southern New Jersey, recovering from a concussion typically took more than twice as long for female athletes as males, with a median recovery time of 28 days compared to 11 days. Diana Kwon, “Concussion Recovery is Slower in Girls, Mounting Evidence Suggests,” Scientific American, October 2, 2017, https://ww.scientificamerican.com/article/concussion-recovery-is-slower-in-girls-mounting…

Tom Reed, “Researchers Tackle Why Female Athletes Suffer More, Worse Concussions,” The Columbus Dispatch, posted September 21, 2016, http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/sports/2016/09/21/female-athletes-suffer-…    

Marjorie A. Snyder, “Girls Suffer Sports Concussions at a Higher Rate Than Boys. Why is this Being Overlooked ?” The Washington Post, February 10, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/02/10/our– effort-to-reduce…

As one source notes, “helmets are mandated in boys’ lacrosse, but not in girls’.” Marjorie A. Snyder, “Girls Suffer Sports Concussions at a Higher Rate Than Boys. Why is that Overlooked?” the Washington Post, February 10, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/wp/2015/02/10/our-effort-to-reduce-…

American academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, “Female Soccer Players Suffer the Most Concussions in High School Sports,” March 14, 2017, http://aaos-annualmeeting-presskit.org/2017/research-news-concussions_hsu…

Courtney Cameron, “Study: Female Athletes More Susceptible to Concussion,” March, 2017, https://www.athleticbusiness.com/athlete-safety/study-female-athletes-more-likely-to-sustain…

See Diana Kwon article referenced above discussing study by Neidecker et al.

According to Katherine Snedaker, executive director of Pink Concussions, as reported in Christie Aschwanden, “Women Get Sports Concussions At Higher Rates Than Men,” Five Thirty Eight, May 17, 2016, https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/women-get-sports-concussions-at-higher-rates-than-men… Bob Roehr,”Concussions Affect Women More Adversely Than Men,” Scientific American, March 9, 2016, https://www.scientificamerican.com/…/concussions-affect-women-more-adversely-than…

Bob Roehr, “Concussions Affect Women More Adversely Than Men,” Scientific American, March 9, 2016, https://www.scientificamerican.com/…/concussions-affect-women-more-adversely-than…

“Researchers at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry have found that mild traumatic injuries heal less quickly when sustained during certain phases of the menstrual cycle and they’ve proposed that the difference may come down to progesterone levels.” Id.

“Concussions in Women: Rates, Symptoms and Recovery are Different Than Men,” ScienceDaily, September 6, 2017, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/09/170906143233.htm.

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