Why High School Girls Have More Risk For Concussion Than Boys

Recent study shows need for better prevention strategies

Why High School Girls Have More Risk For Concussion Than Boys

High school girls in the United States are 56 percent more likely than boys to suffer a concussion in sports that are played by both genders, a recent study says. The largest discrepancy was found in the concussion rates for girls’ softball, which were four times the rates of concussions for boys’ baseball.

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Nearly 8 million U.S. high school students participate in sports every year, with more than 2 million competing in the sports where concussion is common: football, ice hockey, lacrosse and soccer, the study team writes in Journal of Athletic Training.

Participation in sports is one of the leading causes of concussions among the student-athletes, the study says. Researchers were interested in learning about who was getting concussion and how they might have originated.

The study

The research team looked at data from the National Athletic Treatment, Injury and Outcomes Network (NATION) surveillance program to determine concussion rates in 27 sports at 147 high schools in 26 states between 2011 and 2014.

Overall, the data showed nearly four sports-related concussions per 10,000 participations in practices or competitions. The highest rates were in football (9.21 concussions per 10,000 participations), boys’ lacrosse (6.65 per 10,000) and girls’ soccer (6.11 per 10,000).

Concussions were repeat injuries in just 3 percent of cases, and these recurrences were most common in girls’ field hockey, followed by football and girls’ lacrosse.

Player-to-player contact was the most common cause of concussions for both genders. But among just the girls, the biggest cause was player contact with equipment.

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Concussion rates were more than three times as common in competitions as during practice.

Girls may be better reporters

Past research also has suggested that in soccer, the comparative strength of neck muscles between boy and girl athletes might explain girls’ greater likelihood of concussion when heading a soccer ball, says neurologist Andrew Russman, DO. Dr. Russman did not take part in the study.

Young women have less developed neck musculature than their male counterparts, which can account for some of the increased risk, Dr. Russman says.

“The amount of sudden movement of the head that occurs with any impact is a strong risk factor for having a concussion,” Dr. Russman says. “If we have strong neck muscles, then the head doesn’t move quite as much when there is an impact.”

Some recent research also has shown that boys are less likely than girls to report concussion symptoms, which could be one additional explanation for the disparity, the researchers say.

Dr. Russman said this isn’t surprising, because in general, women tend to be better reporters of their health than men.

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The results indicates a need for better prevention strategies — and more research to tease apart these issues, researchers say.

A good reminder

The study is a good reminder for all athletes to have conversations with their athletic trainers about ways to reduce their personal risk of concussion, Dr. Russman says.

“These certainly are the kinds of issues that they can discuss with their athletic trainers, with sports medicine doctors, with their teams and coaches,” Dr. Russman says. “The goal is to understand the type of conditioning an athlete needs to undergo to help to reduce his or her risk of all sorts of injuries, including concussion.”

It’s important to remember that a concussion is an injury just like other sports-related injuries, Dr. Russman says.

“Just as we condition to prevent those injuries, we need to think about ways to prevent injury in the head and neck as well,” he says.

Complete results of the study can be found in the Journal of Athletic Training.

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