Female athletes at risk for concussion

Over the past 30 years, the number of women participating in team sports has steadily increased. Many now begin as young girls and continue through college and into the professional ranks. While this expanded involvement has been a positive step, the number of catastrophic injuries in women has also risen.

The National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research defines these injuries as:

• Fatal
• Non-Fatal — permanent, severe, functional disability
• Serious — no permanent, functional disability, but severe injury.

During the 1982-83 academic year, the first time period data was collected, only one female catastrophic injury was recorded. Over the past 28 years there has been an average of 8.5 catastrophic injuries per year reported in females.

Among the catastrophic injuries most commonly seen is mild traumatic brain injury in the form of concussion. Concussive injuries can span all three classifications of catastrophic injury. Typical symptoms include headache, dizziness and inability to concentrate.

A recent study reviewed 1,425 patients who had suffered concussion and looked at the severity of post-concussive symptoms three months after injury. The severity of symptoms was significantly greater in females. Specifically, the symptoms were most severe in women of childbearing age. This suggests a possible association between concussion and hormonal balance.

Female soccer players have an especially high rate of concussion due to head-to-head contact, head contact with other body parts and head-to-ground contact. Women are believed to under-report concussions and render themselves susceptible to repeat injury. Multiple head injuries can lead to prolonged cognitive impairment.

Due to the information now available, coaches, athletic trainers and physicians must recognize gender differences when diagnosing and rehabilitating women with concussion.