One might assume that concussions among teenagers playing football would result in equal effects in boys as in girls. In fact, this isn’t the case.
Recent research has shown that girls face nearly double the risk of concussion as boys when playing football. Moreover, it takes girls approximately two days longer to recover from a concussion and concussion-related injuries.
Why? The research isn’t exactly clear, but there are several theories. Up ahead, we’ll examine the research related to these findings in detail and dive into what this means for further concussion research.
Michigan-based study reveals disparity in effects of concussion in football among boys and girls
A research study based in Michigan in the United States looked at data from both female and male high school football players. In all, 40,000 female football players were examined alongside approximately the same number of male football players. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Professor Willie Stewart was the study’s senior author.
At the core of the research was the revelation that girls playing football are far more likely to get concussions when compared with boy footballers. One theory as to why this is the case revolves around the structure of the female brain compared to the structure of the male brain. Females may be at greater risk for concussion in football because of microstructural and anthropometric differences in their brains.
Another theory pertains to neck strength. Because girls tend to have weaker necks with smaller girths, when compared with boys, if they head the ball, it may cause a greater negative impact on the brain.
And finally, it is possible that girls are simply more likely to report concussion-related symptoms, and, therefore, it only appears that they experience concussions more often than boys.
Several additional disparities found regarding concussions in males and females
An additional result gleaned from the Michigan study was that boys tended to be substituted more often if it was thought they had potentially suffered a sports concussion. “If in doubt, sit them out” is the general rule of thumb among football coaches. Still, girls were 1.5 times less likely to be subbed if a concussion was suspected.
Another finding related to how concussions occurred in the first place among both males and females. For girls, it was contact with a ball or another object that seemed to cause the most concussions. For boys, it was more common to get a concussion after colliding with or hitting another player.
What does this mean for future concussion research?
Naturally, the results from this study reveal that female footballers need to be monitored more closely when it comes to concussions. If a concussion is suspected, coaches should not hesitate to substitute them. It should go without saying that further injury while playing the game or delayed treatment for a concussion could exacerbate the initial injury.
Concussions are serious injuries. They are considered TBIs or traumatic brain injuries and can have both short and long-term ramifications. Furthermore, individuals who have experienced multiple concussions in their lives are more likely to endure negative physical and emotional health effects.
The long-term effects of concussions are only now being studied in depth. A 2019 research study found that death from dementia was three and a half times more likely among football players compared with the general population. Football players are naturally more likely to suffer concussions in general, so this research has prompted a wave of concern over the sport and how concussions affect the brain. At the same time, no established connection was made directly between concussions, the sport of football, and dementia.