She’s only 16, but she’s already been playing soccer for over a decade. In that time, Alex Anne Matthews, a junior at the Lovett School in the Buckhead area of Atlanta, has broken several bones and sustained two concussions. Unfortunately, according to a new study, the injuries Alex has sustained over her currently 12-year-long soccer career are not only common, but more common for female high school soccer players than males.
During a soccer game on September 4th of this year, Alex hit the ground with force. “She came up from behind me and slide-tackled my feet out from under me, and I landed on my side, and the first thing to hit the ground was my head,” she recalls. Alex’s parents looked on as it happened, and as her mother, Anne Matthews puts it, “Alex Anne got up like she always does and staggered a little to her right. And Chip and I looked at each other and went, ‘that doesn’t look good.”
Despite a noticeable headache, Alex charged on and played in a second soccer game that same afternoon, but it wasn’t too long before routine concussion symptoms: nausea, dizziness, and blurred vision set in. According to Dr. Kenneth Mautner of Emory Sports Medicine, “There’s actually sheering forces that occur inside the brain, and the brain literally gets shaken inside the skull.”
But, according to a new study, it’s much more common (64% more common, in fact) for female high school soccer players such as Alex to sustain concussions than it is for males playing the same sport. So what makes concussions more common for female soccer players? Dr. Mautner says it could be a few things.
“Something just as simple as girls report concussions more because they’re more likely to say when they’re hurt and not feeling well,” according to Mautner, could be one reason. There is also evidence to show that stronger neck muscles in men and their ability to absorb shock more effectively may lower their concussion risk, or that hormones may make female athletes more susceptible to sustaining an injury.
Female athletes may also take longer to recover from concussions. For both men and women, however, Dr. Mautner emphasizes the importance of not returning to the field too soon. “There’s no one test to say you’re ready or you’re not ready, so we see how their symptoms are. They need to be completely asymptomatic at rest, they need to be asymptomatic with exertion.”
The findings of the study are not intended to alarm parents or child athletes, but rather, to help raise awareness around concussion symptoms and the importance of taking heed to them when they present themselves. Nausea, headaches, confusion, drowsiness, sensitivity to noise and dizziness are a few of the most common concussion symptoms.
Thankfully for Alex, six weeks after sustaining her most recent concussion, she is back on the field and pursuing her next goal, to play soccer in college. We’ll be keeping an eye out for her on ESPN in the coming years.
For more information on Dr. Mautner or Emory Sports Medicine, visit: www.emoryhealthcare.org/sports-medicine