When it comes to concussions, there’s a fair amount of evidence that girls have it harder than the boys. Research has shown they are up to twice as likely to experience a concussion and that their symptoms can be more severe than their male counterparts. Now, a new study suggests women may also take up to twice as long to recover from their injuries.
In the study published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, experts analyzed the medical records of 212 participants, 102 of which were female. The participants were between the ages of 11 and 18 and had been diagnosed with their first ever recorded concussion.
According to the findings, it took girls an average of 28 days to recover from their concussion symptoms while it only took 11 days for the boys. This is particularly notable as many sports concussion guidelines recommend avoiding risky activities like sports for up to two weeks after their injury. These guidelines would keep the boys out of action until their symptoms had largely resolved, but would not cover the girls.
The findings “confirm what many in sports medicine have believed for some time,” lead study author Dr. John Neidecker, a sports-related concussion specialist at Orthopaedic Specialists of North Carolina, said in a statement.
As to why it may take women so much longer to recover from their injury, the study raises more questions than answers. Neidecker says that the biological differences between the brains of girls and boys are still not particularly well understood and could potentially be a factor.
Additionally, Neidecker says pre-existing medical conditions can also exacerbate or prolong concussion symptoms. Conditions like depression or recurrent migraines can compound concussion-related difficulties with focus, attention, and pain.
“Most of these conditions are more [common] in females than males,” Neidecker said. The longer duration of symptoms observed in adolescent girls after concussions could, therefore, be the result of an “aggravated pre-existing condition,” he said.
Another factor, according to Neidecker, could be stress.
“This is a stressful injury,” he said. “It’s stressful being an adolescent, and stress in itself can bring in concussion symptoms — irritability, difficulty sleeping [and] difficulty concentrating. It’s hard to tell what’s from stress and what’s from the injury.”
Because of the studies limitations, it is almost impossible to draw concrete conclusions from the findings. Still, they add to the growing body of evidence suggesting that concussions may have unique and potentially worse effects on females that need to be better addressed.