As health experts pay more and more attention to sports-related concussions, much focus has revolved around the risks associated with college and professional football – a predominantly male sport.
But now, new research is shining light on concussion risks seen in lesser-reviewed demographics.
A new study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, has revealed that middle-school female soccer players are also at an elevated risk for mild traumatic brain injury on the playing field. Additionally, many of these athletes continue to play while they are still experiencing concussion symptoms.
“The risk for concussion is higher obviously in football, but in soccer it is still elevated because it’s a contact sport,” lead author Dr. Melissa Schiff, professor of epidemiology in the school of public health at the University of Washington, told FoxNews.com. “Players run into each other, so concussion rates are up there. And there’s been less study that’s been done on female soccer players.”
Hoping to raise awareness about the risk of concussions in younger female athletes, Schiff and her colleague Dr. John O’Kane, of the University of Washington Sports Medicine Clinic, Seattle, followed 351 female soccer players between the ages of 11 and 14. The girls all participated in soccer clubs in the Puget Sound region of Washington State.
To monitor the athletes’ rates of concussions, Schiff and O’Kane set up a virtual injury surveillance system. Over a four-year period, they sent weekly emails to the girls’ families, inquiring if their daughters had experienced a hit to the head or had been suffering from concussion symptoms. If so, the researchers would conduct a follow-up interview with the athlete and then closely monitor her actions until her symptoms disappeared.
Among the 351 players enrolled in the study, there were 59 concussions over 43,742 athletic exposure hours – equating to 1.3 concussions per 1,000 hours of play. Nearly a third of the players suffered a concussion after heading the soccer ball. Concussion symptoms include memory loss, dizziness, drowsiness, headaches and nausea, and they lasted a median of four days after a head injury.
The researchers noted that their study’s most disturbing findings revolved around how little attention was paid to rest and relaxation after a head injury.
“Our key points were that the rate of concussions was a bit higher than what is reported in high school and collegiate soccer players,” Schiff said, “and exactly 58 percent of the players played even though they had symptoms of concussion, despite public information that athletes should stop playing. And over half with concussions were never evaluated by a health care provider.”
Given these statistics, Schiff said athletes, parents and coaches need to be better educated about the signs of a concussion and how to properly rehabilitate players after a head injury.
“One of the main reasons [for these findings] is girls and parents aren’t aware of what a concussion is, what the symptoms are and how important it is to stop playing,” Schiff said. “…We need more education about the symptoms. Also, people feel that soccer is more of a safe sport compared to a full contact sport like football, but we need more research on why the girls aren’t coming out of play.”
Schiff noted that teaching concussion prevention strategies during practice could also help to lower incidences of concussion among younger female athletes.
“We need to focus on teaching the game, focusing on ways to try and prevent concussions,” Schiff said. “Because it’s definitely an area we’re very interested in. We really want to focus more on this group.”