Are sports concussions worse for girls?

VANDERBILT (US) — A new study contradicts the popular notion that girls are worse off after sports-related concussions.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center reviewed symptoms and neurocognitive findings in male and female high school soccer players and their results show no gender-related differences.

“There has been good data that suggests girls score worse on neurocognitive testing following a sports-related concussion. Our hypothesis was that a tightly controlled study would replicate what others have shown previously,” says Scott Zuckerman, a neurosurgery resident who conducted the study with colleagues at the Vanderbilt Sports Concussion Center.


The study is published in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics.

The researchers selected 40 male and 40 female concussed patients who were matched, as closely as possible, for age, medical/psychiatric history, years of education, lack of special education assistance, history of psychiatric treatment, number of prior concussions, timing of pre- and post-concussion testing, and sport (all engaged in soccer).

This is the first study to control for type of sport played when looking a gender differences, Zuckerman says.

“Prior studies have used mixed groups of athletes from a variety of sports. We suspected that since concussions vary from sport to sport (i.e., helmets vs. none, varying biomechanical forces, etc.), if the variable of sport was controlled, gender differences might disappear.”

The only significant gender-related difference they could identify was that female soccer players reported a greater number of symptoms post-concussion. There were no significant differences in post-concussion neurocognitive scores.

“We were somewhat surprised and were not sure what to expect in such a tightly controlled population,” Zuckerman says. “Our hypothesis was that females would experience greater levels of acute, post-concussive, neurocognitive impairment than males, fitting with what most of the prior literature says, but we found virtually no difference between males and females.”

Zuckerman says this is a significant finding for the treatment of sports-related concussion.

“When we see any child after concussion, we don’t want to make snap decisions based on gender. Gender may not be as big a modifying factor as previously thought.”

This study is the first from V-SCoRe, or Vanderbilt Sports Concussion Research.

“This effort is just getting off the ground, and we’re investigating many more modifying factors in concussion, including age, sleep, symptoms, prior history of attention deficit disorder,” Zuckerman says.

“Our goal is to create new knowledge in this area and help providers better understand when a young athlete can return to play safely.”

Source: Vanderbilt University