Awareness, involvement could lower concussion rate among girls

Soccer players in mid-air going after ball

Parents and coaches can take action to help prevent concussions among young athletes, especially girls, who are reporting concussions in greater numbers.

About 300,000 sports-related concussions happen every year in the United States. Rates vary by sport, gender and exposure, but in 2011, a study was published that found girls’ soccer had the second highest rate of concussions. The 11-year study found football had the highest rate.

The study also found that girls have twice the risk of concussions as boys in the sports they both play, which include baseball/softball, basketball, and soccer.

Dr. Kimberly Albert, a pediatrician at The Austin Diagnostic Clinic, has noticed more girls with concussions in her practice. Over the past year, she says she’s noticed girls have suffered an equal number of concussions – if not more – than boys. Many of the concussions were sports-related, particularly from soccer.

“Girls most definitely get concussions. They may be at a higher same-age risk, and they may take longer to recover,” Dr. Albert said.

A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury caused by a blow to the head. Its symptoms can seem mild because it may not cause a person to lose consciousness. But over the long term it can cause significant physical, cognitive, and psychological problems.

Symptoms vary greatly. They can be physical, cognitive, emotional, or even show up as a sleep problem. They can include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vision problems
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Forgetfulness
  • Irritability
  • Nervousness
  • Drowsiness

Recovery time from a concussion can vary greatly. Sometimes symptoms only last a few minutes, but they can also last days, weeks, or even longer.

“Younger athletes take longer to recover than older athletes (college age and up), and they are at greater risk for repeat injury. It needs to be taken seriously,” Dr. Albert said.

Can concussions be prevented?

Dr. Albert says there are things that can be done to help prevent concussions, particularly in youth sports.

In sports where collisions can happen — like soccer — she says coaches should teach proper techniques for heading the ball or how to go after the ball without colliding with another player. Players could also improve their neck strength, which isn’t generally done in girls’ soccer, but it’s often done in football.

There’s also been some talk about wearing headgear in soccer to absorb some of the force of the ball. Soccer headgear is available, but it has not been generally adopted in the sport.

But Dr. Albert says awareness among players, parents, coaches and doctors about the risk for concussions will go a long way in helping to prevent them.

“It’s not that kids shouldn’t play sports – I think they should. Physical activity is very important, and for some it provides much more than physical benefits,” she said. “Parents need to be involved – hopefully (they are) observing that coaches are involved and teaching proper technique. Kids need to be aware too. If they hit their head, they need to let coaches know so it can be dealt with appropriately.”