According to a study of over 80,000 high school students in the United States, female soccer players are twice as likely as males to sustain concussions.
Over three academic years, researchers analyzed survey data from approximately 43,000 male and 39,000 female players from Michigan schools. According to the findings published on April 27 in JAMA Network Open, there is a significant difference between the sexes in their likelihood of having a sports-related head injury. The girls have double the chance of concussion as the boys.
Scientists had long suspected that head injuries in female athletes were more common and required longer recovery times. However, according to the study’s lead author, neuropathologist Professor Willie Stewart from the University of Glasgow, Professor Douglas J Wiebe and Dr. Abigail C. Bretzin from the University of Pennsylvania, and Professor Tracey Covassin from the Michigan State University, factual data were lacking. “We have so little research in female athletes,” he says. The Michigan High School Athletic Association’s collection of such a large volume of data on sports injuries provided an opportunity to investigate whether female athletes are truly at higher risk of concussion.
According to Stewart, there were differences between male and female athletes. The male and female high-school players’ injuries varied greatly: the boys’ most frequent means of being concussed was by slamming into another player, which accounted for nearly half of all concussions. After colliding with another unit, such as the ball or one of the goalposts, girls were more likely to be concussed. Boys were also more likely than girls to be suspended from play after a reported head injury.
Stewart notes that the discovery of a distinct mechanism for female head injuries is significant. “It could be one of the reasons why girls with concussions were not being picked up as frequently on the field,” he adds. The current concussion-management systems — from how potential head injuries are identified during a match to how athletes are treated and returned to play — are almost entirely dictated by research on male athletes, according to Stewart. “Instead of the current, male-dominated, one-size-fits-all approach to concussion management, sex-specific approaches may need to be considered,” he says. This could include prohibiting footballs from being headed or increasing the number of medically trained personnel on hand during female matches.
Bretzin AC, Covassin T, Wiebe DJ, Stewart W. Association of sex with adolescent soccer
concussion incidence and characteristics. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(4):e218191.