By Zack Ward
ANNAPOLIS—With attention on concussions largely focused on professional football and mens sports, these brain injuries may get overlooked in womens sports.
Concussion experts agree that while football still sees the most concussions, every sport involving contact needs be aware of the issue. As Dr. Stacy Suskauer of the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore put it: there really isnt a sport that is concussion-proof.
If anything, girls seem to be more prone to concussions than boys. Research of high school athletes suggests that in sports both genders play in a similar way, girls are twice as likely to sustain a concussion, according to a report published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine in 2011.
Dr. Gerard Gioia of the Childrens National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., said, If you look at sports that are similar in terms of how girls play it - soccer, basketball and baseball-softball - in those three sports, girls do have a higher incidence of concussions.
What Gioia doesnt know is why this is the case.
Is it because their necks are not as strong? Is there something about the hormonal differences that affect how we respond to the blow? Is it because girls are more willing to report the problem? I think its important to widen the scope and realize that we need more information about that, said Gioia, the director of the Safe Concussion Outcome Recovery & Education (SCORE) Program, which evaluates and monitors the care of youths with concussions.
The head lacrosse coach of the U.S. Womens National Team, Ricky Fried - who has also coached male lacrosse players - would lean towards ruling out the willingness-to-report factor.
Honestly I would say athletes are athletes, Fried said. I think theres people of both genders who try to stay on the field
I dont think women are more likely to report their injury than a male.
Lauren Burkhead, the Director of Clinical Services at Righttime Medical Care in Annapolis, agreed, saying: I think when you really get into the serious athlete
the girls want to ignore their symptoms just as much as the boys do.
In Frieds sport in particular there has been a lot of controversy surrounding concussions and whether or not womens lacrosse players should be required to wear helmets. Fried is one of many coaches that maintains helmets are not necessary in the womens game, which has different rules than the mens game where helmets are worn.
I think it really depends on, I guess, where the sport is, Fried said. Theres not a necessity [for helmets in womens lacrosse] with the way the rules are currently, if its being played, coached and officiated the way its supposed to. The helmet isnt necessarily going to take care of hitting the ground, because its not necessarily the impact, its the brain being moved around in the helmet.
However, Fried did not downplay the importance of the concussion issue in womens sports.
I think theres a greater awareness of the impact of what a concussion does long term, Fried said, noting the attention the issue has drawn in the NFL. Especially what multiple concussions can do long term. So that heightens everyones awareness across the board, regardless of sport.
But while the awareness has increased on the girls side of sports, so much is still left unknown.
Suskauer, who directs the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Programs at Kennedy Krieger, doesnt dispute the data that girls report more concussions but did point out that at her clinic alone they see more boys than girls in the younger group of children, and even among teenagers they see slightly more boys.
The reality is that doctors arent even sure if children are more susceptible than adults, let alone being sure about the role gender plays. Both Kennedy Krieger and the SCORE Program at the Childrens National Medical Center focus on youth concussion patients, but neither Suskauer nor Gioia are certain that kids are more vulnerable. They both believe more data in needed.
However, Gioia did say: Theres one study that compares high school kids to the pros and suggests that the high school kids take longer to recover [from concussions].
If a youngster gets hit, their neck gets moved around more and that may lead to a greater likelihood of a concussion, Gioia added.
The same neck-strength argument could indicate why girls are more susceptible than boys, but for the most part, genders role remains a mystery along with most aspects of research surrounding concussions.