In recent years, media attention to concussions in sports has exploded. The long-term effects of head injuries in pro athletes is clearly important, but there are real concerns about these injuries in young athletes, especially concussions in female athletes.
Studies have suggested that younger athletes might be more susceptible to head impacts, causing concussion symptoms that last longer. Also, studies looking at individual sports usually show that females have higher rates of concussions than male athletes in sports with the same rules and equipment.
A study published recently in the journal Sports Health examined young athletes who presented to one sports medicine clinic. The authors collected data on 266 boys and girls (average age of 14) evaluated and treated for concussions over a one-year period. They analyzed the recoveries and treatments for male and female athletes.
Length of recovery
Female athletes took longer to fully recover. On average, full recovery took about 75 days for girls and about 50 days for boys. About two-thirds of young female athletes had recovery times over one month.
Female athletes received far more interventions for concussion symptoms. Doctors prescribed rest seven times more often to girls than boys. They offered academic modifications three times more often to females. They prescribed medications to four times as many females and vestibular therapy to eight times more female females than males.
Take home points about concussions in female athletes
As shown by the average length of recovery, adolescent athletes frequently have long courses of recovery after suffering concussions, especially when compared to older athletes.
Female athletes also more often needed treatments other than rest. Parents should be aware that girls
might need academic assistance, such as extensions for tests or assignments and light and noise adjustments in the classroom.
How can we encourage athletes to report concussions?
Recognize that concussions occur in sports other than football
Suicide and mental health concerns exist after concussions in young athletes
We know that all concussions are serious. Every athlete should be evaluated and cleared by a doctor before returning to play. If you are the parent of a young female athlete who suffers a concussion, you might be extra vigilant. Taking her to see a sports neurologist or doctor experienced with concussion management might be useful to avoid some of the long-term risks of head injuries.
Kostyun RO, Hafeez I. Protracted recovery from a concussion: a focus on gender and treatment interventions in an adolescent population. Sports Health. 2015 Jan;7(1):52-7.