Girls take longer to heal from concussions
MICHIGAN STATE (US) — Females and younger athletes take longer to recover from concussions, new research shows.
The findings suggest physicians and athletic trainers should take sex and age into account when dealing with the injury.
As reported in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers found females performed worse than males on visual memory tests and reported more symptoms postconcussion.
Additionally, high school athletes performed worse than college athletes on verbal and visual memory tests, and some of the younger athletes still were impaired up to two weeks after their injuries.
“While previous research suggests younger athletes and females may take longer to recover from a concussion, little was known about the interactive effects of age and sex on symptoms, cognitive testing and postural stability,” says study leader Tracey Covassin of the kinesiology department at Michigan State University.
“This study confirms that age and sex have an impact on recovery, and future research should focus on developing treatments tailored to those differences.”
Between 2001 and 2005, federal statistics reveal more than 150,000 sport-related concussions occurred among youth ages 14 to 19. However, the actual number is likely much higher, as current statistics reflects only concussions that involved visits to the emergency departments.
The study looked at nearly 300 concussed athletes from multiple states over two years. All of the athletes had previously completed a baseline test before taking three different postconcussion tests, the same ones used in professional sports, after being injured.
When it comes to sex differences, Covassin says what often is needed most is simple education.
“We need to raise awareness that yes, female athletes do get concussions,” she adds. “Too often, when we speak with parents and coaches, they overlook the fact that in comparable sports, females are concussed more than males.”
Coupled with the fact that high school athletes take longer to recover than collegiate athletes, Covassin says the study reveals a real potential danger to younger athletes by not fully recovering after a concussion.
“Younger athletes appear more at risk for second-impact syndrome, where a second concussion can come with more severe symptoms,” she notes. “While it is rare, there is a serious risk for brain damage, and the risk is heightened when athletes are coming back before they heal.”
The next steps, Covassin says, are to investigate sex and age differences at the youth sport level and whether treatment options needed to be tailored for an athlete’s age.
“If we can develop treatments that speak directly to sex and age, I think we can better protect athletes from the long-term side effects of concussions,” she says.
The study was funded by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment.
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