While football continues to dominate the discussion surrounding sports-related brain injuries, it is often easy to forget that numerous other sports are also facing their own concussion problems. Football is undoubtedly the most popular sport in the United States, and so it makes sense that it receives the most attention from the media. But, it also receives the most research and education for brain injuries, which may be leaving athletes in other sports at risk.
Football is played almost entirely by males, but research has shown that female brain injury patients often fare worse, at least in the short term. Few studies have focused on older female athletes.
The lack of research and concussion education appears to be creating a gap which is allowing female athletes to continue the risky practices that are gradually being removed from more popular sports. Thankfully, that is slowly changing as researchers begin to examine the risks of brain injuries in lesser-reviewed demographics.
A new study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics shows that middle school female soccer players are at an increased risk for mild traumatic brain injury while playing, but few regulations have been put in place to ensure athletes are removed from competition after they suffer a brain injury. This has led to many of these athletes continuing to compete and practice while they are still experiencing concussion symptoms.
“The risk for concussion is higher obviously in football, but in soccer it is still elevated because it’s a contact sport,” lead author Dr. Melissa Schiff, professor of epidemiology in the school of public health at the University of Washington, told Fox News journalist Loren Grush. “Players run into each other, so concussion rates are up there. And there’s been less study that’s been done on female soccer players.”
Schiff and her colleague Dr. John O’Kane from the University of Washington Sports Medicine Clinic, Seattle, followed 351 female soccer players between the ages of 11 and 14. The girls were all participants in soccer clubs located in the Puget Sound region of Washington.
The researchers used a virtual injury surveillance system to monitor the athlete’s rates of concussions. The system sent weekly emails to the girls’ families over a four year period, inquiring if their daughters had experienced a hit to the head or had reported any symptoms which may be related to a concussion. If so, the researchers held a follow-up interview with the athlete, as well as monitoring them closely until the symptoms dissipated.
From the 351 girls participating, there were 59 concussions (roughly 1.3 concussions per 1,000 hours of sports-related activity). Of the girls who suffered concussions, nearly a third of the injuries were the result of heading the soccer ball.
“Our key points were that the rate of concussions was a bit higher than what is reported in high school and collegiate soccer players,” Schiff said, “and exactly 58 percent of the players played even though they had symptoms of concussion, despite public information that athletes should stop playing. And over half with concussions were never evaluated by a health care provider.”
Schiff and O’Kane’s findings show that there needs to be a greater emphasis on concussion education and regulation among all sports, not just football. Players should be better educated about the signs and symptoms of concussions, and the staff should be properly trained on how to handle when an injury occurs.
“One of the main reasons [for these findings] is girls and parents aren’t aware of what a concussion is, what the symptoms are and how important it is to stop playing,” Schiff said. “…We need more education about the symptoms. Also, people feel that soccer is more of a safe sport compared to a full contact sport like football, but we need more research on why the girls aren’t coming out of play.”