As the number of sports-related concussions continues to rise across the United States, equally disturbing is recent awareness around increased prevalence of concussions in female athletes versus male athletes.
Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that between 1.6 and 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur each year in the United States, accounting for 5–9% of all sports-related injuries. While the increase in occurrence can be contributed to greater awareness of the symptoms and consequences associated with the injury, it is believed that around 50% of concussions go unreported.
Recent data suggests an increase in the number of concussions sustained by female athletes versus male athletes – with some studies reporting the incidence of concussion in women to be double. Female athletes also experienced (or reported) a higher severity level of symptoms as well as a longer duration of recovery time. The sports in which these differences were most commonly seen were basketball, soccer and volleyball.
Why the sudden increase in female sports-related concussions? While an exact cause or scientific correlation is unknown, there are a few theories that may support why:
- Physical Differences: women have more slender necks and smaller heads and can experience nearly 50 percent more head acceleration during head trauma.
- Hormonal Differences: estrogen may play a role in the effects on the brain after injury, while progesterone levels may contribute to and worsen post-concussion symptoms such as headache, nausea, dizziness, etc.
However, not all studies have found significant differences in concussions between the sexes. A study of 15,802 high school athletes in North Carolina, reported more concussions amongst male soccer players than females, while female basketball players reported more concussion incidents than males.
It has been disputed that the difference between the sexes may also be due to reporting bias. Anecdotally, it’s suspected that male athletes may be less likely than female athletes to report concussions for fear of not being able to continue participating in sports. Also, the level of performance (elite versus recreational athletes) and sport types may also contribute to biased study results.
Until there’s more research to support whether an athlete’s sex plays a role in concussion risk and occurrence, all concussions should be prevented and treated the same. Parents, coaches and team physicians should be familiar of the signs and symptoms of a concussion, and provide the proper care. To make sure you know how to recognize the signs and symptoms of a concussion, view our checklist and make sure to report all heads injuries to a health care professional.
About Dr. Mines
Brandon Mines, MD, is an assistant professor of orthopaedics. Dr. Mines started practicing at Emory in 2005 after completing his Sports Medicine Fellowship at University of California – Los Angeles. Dr. Mines is board certified in both family practice and sports medicine. He has focused his clinical interest on sports injuries and conditions of the shoulder, elbow, wrist/hand, knee, foot and ankle. He is head team physician for the Women’s National Basketball Association’s (WNBA) Atlanta Dream.
Dr. Mines is a rotational physician for United States soccer teams and team physician for the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons along with various local high schools, colleges, and community club teams. He enjoys giving talks and lectures regarding the prevention of sports injuries. In fact, as an active member of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine and the American Society for Sports Medicine, Dr. Mines has attended and presented at various national conferences. Through the years, he has helped all levels of athletes return to the top of their game.
About Emory Sports Medicine Center
The Emory Sports Medicine Center is a leader in advanced treatments for patients with orthopedic and sports-related injuries. From surgical sports medicine expertise to innovative therapy and athletic injury rehabilitation, our sports medicine physicians and specialists provide the most comprehensive treatment for athletic injuries in Atlanta and the state of Georgia. Constantly conducting research and developing new techniques, Emory sports medicine specialists are experienced in diagnosing and treating the full spectrum of sports injuries.
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