Concussed Girls Playing Soccer
January 21, 2014

Many Girls Continue To Play Soccer After A Concussion

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

A new study on young female soccer players came to a worrying conclusion: many of them continue to play after suffering a concussion on the pitch.

Conducted by researchers in Washington State, the study looked at the incidence and length of concussions in young female soccer players between the ages of 11 and 14, as well as whether symptoms resulted in them coming off the soccer pitch and seeking medical treatment. Concussion symptoms can consist of memory loss, dizziness, drowsiness, headache and nausea.

The study, which was published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, included over 350 young girls from soccer clubs in the Puget Sound area of the state. Among the study participants, there were a total of 59 concussions resulting from nearly 44,000 hours of athletic activity. Collective concussion incidence was 13 percent per season with a frequency of 1.2 per 1,000 hours. Volleying the ball with the head accounted for just over 30 percent of the concussions.

The researchers said heading the ball may pose a higher risk to the middle school athlete due to the stage of their development, which includes weaker neck muscles and brains that are still developing.

“It may be beneficial to teach proper heading techniques to younger players, and there may be situations where those players shouldn’t head the ball,” Dr. John O’Kane speculated, UW professor of orthopedics and sports medicine.

The researchers found that nearly 59 percent of participants who suffered concussion symptoms continued to play, while only about 44 percent sought medical attention. The girls’ symptoms lasted an average of 9.4 days.

“Unlike a sprained ankle, concussion symptoms like a headache or dizziness often don’t physically prevent an athlete from continuing play, even though they’re putting themselves at risk by doing so,” said study author O’Kane.

The study team noted that the rate of 1.3 concussions per 1,000 athletic exposure hours was higher than previous studies of female soccer players at the high school and college levels.

The research team theorized that many concussed players may not recognize the symptoms of a concussion. Playing with concussion makes that person more vulnerable to getting hit again, potentially making for longer and more relentless symptoms. A second trauma can also cause a uncommon condition known as second-impact syndrome. This condition typically occurs in people under 20 and can result in severe injury or death, O’Kane said.

“Young athletes who get a concussion tend to underreport or minimize it because they don’t want to be taken out of play,” said study author Melissa Schiff, professor of epidemiology at UW. “Unless they tell their coach about it, coaches often aren’t aware of what happened.”

The researchers stressed the importance of education in preventing concussed players from returning to a game and reinjuring themselves.

“We need more education for children, as well as parents and coaches, about what a concussion is and what the consequences can be if it isn’t taken seriously,” Schiff said.

"Future studies should also compare short- and long-term outcomes for those who seek medical care and return to play according to recommended guidelines vs. those who do not seek medical care and/or return to play prematurely,” the researchers concluded in their report.