Media coverage of concussions and other traumatic brain injuries (TBI) is often associated with male athletes. However, findings from recently released studies of adolescent athletes showed that female athletes require a longer recovery time from a TBI, but may be more likely than male athletes to return to play the same day. The research is part of a growing body of literature sounding the alarm on TBIs among female athletes and demanding attention from researchers, advocates, parents, care givers and those involved in organizing youth athletic programs.
Sports medicine physician John Neidecker and his colleagues retrospectively analyzed the medical records of 212 high school athletes, including 110 males and 102 females, between 11 and 18 years of age, the Scientific American explains. Students included in the study sustained their first sports-related concussion and were treated at a sports medicine practice in southern New Jersey between 2011 and 2013.
The findings were published by The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association and showed that concussion recovery time for female athletes is more than twice as long as for male athletes. Female athletes continued to experience, on average, concussion-related symptoms for 28 days while the median recovery time for male athletes was 11 days. The data is in addition to several studies published since the mid-2000s that suggest female athletes “may sustain a higher rate of [head] injuries on the playing field” than their male counterparts.
Still, another alarming study found that young, female athletes with a median age of 14 who played soccer were more than 400 percent more likely to return to play the same day, according to MedPage Today. The study was led by Aaron Zynda, a research coordinator at Texas Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital in Dallas, who presented the findings during the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) annual meeting in September.
While the AAP has provided guidance on the issue, recommending that “athletes should not be returned to play on the same day of concussion, even if they become asymptomatic,” Zynda’s study shows that sports teams and coaches are not following the guidelines intended to better protect young athletes.
More research is necessary to accurately gauge the effects of TBIs on athletes and to determine how and why different responses occur based on gender. Such research will lend itself to developing better standards for protection and play for all young athletes. However, for now, coaches and others organizing youth sports, as well as parents and other care givers, must appreciate the significant and long-term effects of TBIs. Proactive measures such as strictly adhering to policies preventing athletes from returning to play the same day they experience a concussion is one step in the right direction.
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For more information on how sports are linked to traumatic brain injury visit www.helmetinjuries.com. Mike Andrews, a lawyer in our firm’s Personal Injury & Products Liability Section, handles cases involving traumatic brain injuries. You can contact him at 800-898-2034 or Mike.Andrews@beasleyallen.com.
The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association
American Academy of Pediatrics