Organizations and leaders from the National Girls & Women in Sports Day Coalition (NGWSD) gathered in Washington, D.C. recently to recognize the advancement of girls’ and women’s sports and to discuss how to reduce the numbers of concussions in sports.
Reports from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) show a 60 percent increase in the number of reported concussions in the last 10 years. Concussions are routinely viewed as an issue affecting male athletes, but a significant number of female athletes also experience serious head injuries. The Women’s Sports Foundation research shows that females participating in many high school sports now have a higher incidence rate of sport-related concussions than do males in similar sports*. Other topline findings include:
- Concussion rates in high school girls’ soccer is double that of boys’ soccer*
- Concussion rates in high school girls’ basketball are one-third higher than in boys’ basketball*
- Concussion rates in high school girls’ softball are triple that of boys’ baseball*
“The issue of concussions in sports is gaining traction in the press, but all too often, the headlines only focus on how concussions affect players in male-dominated sports, like football and hockey,” says Angela Hucles, two-time Olympic and World Cup medalist, soccer, and newly appointed President of the Women’s Sports Foundation. “Our goal – and one of my first actions as the President of the Women’s Sports Foundation – will be to make a discussion of guidelines that would minimize concussions for every athlete in every sport a top priority. Like so many issues, education is key, and that’s where we will begin.”
The organization noted that there is emerging evidence that younger elite female athletes experience concussion rates at much higher rates than their high school counterparts. Female elite soccer players who are 11-14 years-old experience concussions at four times the rate of high school soccer female soccer players.
“The statistics about concussions affecting female athletes and are alarming and should spur policymakers to pass legislation that will help keep all young athletes–both male and female–safe,” added Hucles. “It is past time for all athletes to enjoy the physical and emotional benefits of sports participation without risking their health.”
There is little evidence that explains the gender differences in the incidence of concussions, according to the organization. So far, most attention has been given to the differences of head and neck size and musculature. But ongoing research is still trying to determine how and if these differences play a role in the mechanism of the injury. There are also questions about the potential hormonal influences that might account for the disparities. Although more research is needed, some evidence suggests the possibility that female athletes present more concussion symptoms acutely, take a longer period to recover from concussions and report a greater number of and more prolonged post-concussion symptoms than male athletes.