The phenomenon of athletes ignoring the signs of a concussion and staying on the field after an injury is a well-known problem usually attributed to machismo. The boys are just too afraid of being labeled “weak” or “girly” for sitting on the sidelines, according to most brain injury experts. However, a new study suggests that may be an outdated stereotype.
According to research presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics annual meeting this weekend, female athletes are actually much more likely to play through an injury compared to their male counterparts.
“The girl soccer players were 5 times more likely than boys to return to play on the same day as their concussion,” Shane M. Miller, MD, FAAP, a pediatric sports medicine specialist at the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, said in a press release. “This is cause for concern, especially with previous studies showing that girls suffer twice as many concussions as boys.”
Miller says he was motivated to conduct the study after seeing a growing number of patients in his private practice who said they had continued playing despite thinking they were injured.
“We started to see a trend of athletes reporting to us that they had continued to play in their particular sport after sustaining a concussion,” he says. “We wanted to go back and look to see if that’s just a few athletes.”
Contrary to Miller’s hopes, the team found that a concerning number of young athletes were ignoring the signs of concussions on the field. Based on data collected from soccer players between the ages of seven and 18 over two years, the researchers estimate that as much as 40 percent of athletes continued playing on the day they experienced a concussion.
Even more surprising, the analysis indicated that girl athletes were up to five times more likely to have stayed on the field compared to the male soccer players.
A number of regulations have been put in place across youth sports organizations across the country, including hiring independent spotters and training staff to identify potentially injured players. Still, Miller says it is not always possible for others to know when a concussion happens.
“A lot of these were athletes that did not report their symptoms at the time of the injury and kept [playing],” he says. “We’re not saying the coaches didn’t do a good job, we don’t know why they kept playing.”
More than anything, the researchers believe a lack of understanding about concussions is the largest cause of this phenomenon.
“Considering the dangers of returning to play prematurely, parents need to familiarize themselves with organizational guidelines for concussions, which should be aligned with current national recommendations, and should have a heightened awareness of signs and symptoms of concussions,” Aaron Zynda, clinical research coordinator at the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, said in a press release.
“Current education efforts may not be enough to help athletes, parents and coaches identify concussion symptoms, know the guidelines for immediate removal from play and understand the risks of returning to play after an injury,” Zynda continued. “More research is needed on how to better spread this message intended to protect the health of young athletes and help them comply with state laws.”