Are Females More Likely To Suffer From Concussions?

I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about concussions as of late.  It has become a very hot topic in sports from young children right up to the professional level.  I, for one, am glad that concussion information is being passed around because a concussion can be a very serious thing.  A concussion has been called many things throughout the years, but the bottom line is that it is a brain injury.  That’s why they have been treated so seriously lately.

The more people learn about concussions, the more they understand how big of a deal they really are.  Concussions can result in all kinds of symptoms including dizziness, headaches, visual changes, sleep disturbance, inability to focus and a whole host of others.  The last thing anyone wants is for a concussion to ruin a young person’s future.

Concussions also take an unknown amount of time to resolve.  Most of the athletes I’ve seen return to play within a couple weeks of the first concussion.  However, with subsequent concussions, recovery is less predictable.  It will often take longer and you may not be able to come back at all.  I’ve had young athletes quit certain sports like football and hockey because they’ve had too many concussions.

Obviously, concussions can affect anyone in any walk of life, but athletes tend to get them more regularly.  I’ve actually worked with a field hockey player who sustained a concussion because she got hit in the head by a water bottle the other players were throwing around for fun.  The question that this article will attempt to answer is if women are more likely to suffer a concussion than men and how does their recovery differ?

The Evidence

There have been studies done to suggest that females are more prone to concussions than males playing the same sport.  A study done in 2007 found that concussion rates in girls’ soccer was 68 percent higher than in boys’ soccer.  Another study done on high school soccer players in 2011 found that the concussion rate in girls was twice that of boys.

A study done on high school basketball players found that girls were three times more likely to suffer from a concussion than boys playing the same sport.  A different study also looking at basketball players concluded that the concussion rate was 1.7 times higher for girls than for boys.

The research is mixed when trying to decide if females report worse and longer duration concussion symptoms than males.  Some of the research says they do and other studies refute this idea.

These studies would suggest that concussions are more prevalent in female athletes than male athletes.  Now the question becomes, why?

Anatomical and Physiological Differences

Some experts in this area believe that because women have smaller heads and less developed neck muscles, they are at a greater risk for concussions.  If your head is smaller and lighter, it is more easily tossed around.  Adding to the problem is the weaker neck muscles that make it harder to absorb the shock of a blow to the head that a male athlete maybe can.

The physiological difference comes down to hormones, as usual.  There have been preliminary studies in animals to suggest that estrogen actually made the concussion worse in females.  However, strangely enough, that same hormone helped to protect the brain of the males.

The other difference is in blood flow to the brain.  Studies suggest that women have more cerebral blood flow than men, and therefore require more glucose to the brain for energy.  The idea is that after a concussion, the blood flow to the brain is disrupted and the glucose demand goes up, which may increase the concussion symptoms and prolong recovery.

Gender Differences

One reason some people think women are more prone to concussions than men is because they are more likely to report the problem.  Women are more honest.  What this means is that the numbers may be skewed because more males than females are saying they’re fine when they’re really not.  Maybe this is true, maybe not.  I think in this day in age women are getting just as competitive as men and they may be just as likely to lie about their symptoms so they don’t miss any playing time.

The last reason that might be a reason why women are more concussed than men lies in sporting rules.  Currently, hitting in women’s sports is not allowed.  Since they never have the opportunity to get hit, their bodies are not used to it.  Furthermore, because they don’t hit on purpose, they are not trained to look out for hits so that they can adjust for the impact and maybe prevent an injury in doing so.

So, there it is.  Why women might be more susceptible to concussions than men.  There is still lots of research that needs to be done on the matter, so the debate is far from over.  Nonetheless, I hope you found this article informative.  I’ll talk about the ins and outs of the actual concussion in a future post.

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