Does Your Daughter’s Sport Pose Concussion Risks?

Emerging research warns that high school football athletes aren’t alone in facing concussion risks.

concussion risks

The groundbreaking research of Dr. Bennet Omalu linked football head injuries to concussion risks and lasting brain injuries—and sparked concern about the safety of boys playing high school football. For years, football players were considered at highest risk for concussions in high school sports. But football is not the only high school contact sport with head injury risks. In fact, emerging research has significantly expanded the formerly narrow focus on boys and football. As we learn more, female athletes are stepping into the spotlight of concern.

Research confirms that girls are at higher risk for sports-related concussions

“According to a recent article published in the Journal of Athletic Training, the rate of sport-related concussion in sex-comparable sports is 56 percent higher in girls than in boys,” explains sports medicine specialist Dr. Jack Skendzel. “Multiple studies now indicate that many young female athletes are at higher concussion risk than their male football counterparts. For parents with daughters in high school sports, these findings cause understandable concern.”

Understanding how a concussion happens

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury caused by an impact or jolt, resulting in rapid back and forth movement of the head. This sudden movement can cause the brain to bounce or twist in the skull. As a result, impact agitation can create chemical changes in the brain. In some cases, the brain cells are stretched and damaged.

Putting concussion risks for high school athletes in perspective

According to the Journal of Athletic Training, nearly 8 million high school students participate in sports every year. Of those, more than 2 million compete in sports where concussion is common. In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC inform us that the number of reported concussions in children has doubled in the last 10 years. Notably, concussion-related sports include football, ice hockey, lacrosse, and soccer.

The concussion risks for girls are significant

Girls’ soccer may be overtaking high school football as the sport posing the greatest concussion risks. One study found that girls’ soccer has the highest per capita rate of concussion among high school sports. By way of comparison, traumatic brain injuries compose 27 percent of the injuries suffered by girls’ soccer players, while brain injuries represent 24 percent of overall injuries among high school football players.

Research tells us that player-to-player contact is a common cause of concussions for both genders. However, among girl athletes, player contact with equipment is the biggest concussion culprit. “When assessing concussion risks,” says Dr. Skendzel, “it’s also helpful to know that concussions occur more than three times as often during competition compared to practice.”

Factors contributing to higher concussion risks among girls

Dr. Skendzel and Summit performance specialist and performance specialist and strength conditioning coach Jeffrey Cassellius explain two factors that contribute to the higher concussion rates among girls.

  • Gender differences in neck strength“Boys tend to have stronger neck musculature than girls do,” Cassellius observes. “The amount of sudden head movement in response to impact is a concussion risk factor. If an athlete has strong neck muscles, then the head won’t move quite as much in response to a blow.”
  • Girls may report injury more often“We know that generally, women are better health reporters than men,” says Dr. Skendzel. “If girls are more likely than boys to acknowledge concussion symptoms, that could also contribute to the gender disparity in concussion data.”

Summit emphasizes prevention strategies to protect young athletes

The Summit sports medicine team works closely with high school coaches and their teams to address and minimize concussion risks. “Our high school football players are trying out the new VICIS helmet,” states Cassellius. “These helmets are designed by engineers and neurosurgeons with multiple layers that work together to absorb impact forces. Since our football players began wearing the helmets, concussions dropped dramatically. In fact, we had only one concussion injury last year. At the moment, VICIS only offers helmets for football. However, we hope that we’ll see this technology applied to headgear for hockey, lacrosse, and soccer in the future.”

“Training is another important component of prevention,” notes Dr. Skendzel. “Because we know there’s an increased likelihood of injury in competition, we can develop training to specifically address aggressiveness and risk-taking during play. As the Official Sports Medicine Partner for District 833 high school athletes, we recognize our role in monitoring emerging research and proactively taking preventative measures that help keep these young athletes safe on the field.”

Summit Orthopedics offers comprehensive sports medicine expertise

From Olympians to pro athletes to kids in youth sports and those that just want to be more active—Summit Orthopedics delivers expert care by fellowship-trained sports medicine physicians. If you are recently injured or concerned about ongoing pain, Summit Orthopedics sports medicine specialists have the expertise to evaluate your discomfort and develop a plan to quickly and safely help you get back to being active.

Start your journey to stronger, healthier athletic condition. Find your sports medicine expert, request an appointment online, or call us at (651) 968–5201 to schedule a sports medicine consultation.

Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MNVadnais Heights, MN, Plymouth, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as several additional community clinics.

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  • Jack Skendzel, M.D.

    “An active lifestyle requires superior physical function, and I understand that my patients have exceptionally high standards for their performance and joint health. My goal is to return patients to optimal function so that they can continue to perform and master their personal athletic goals.”

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