Why Concussions in Soccer Affect Girls Differently than Boys
Feb 23, 2022
Let's face it - men and women differ when it comes to playing the beautiful game. The style of play, measures of equality and injury risks look different among the two sexes. But when it comes to injury risk, women face higher risks of specific injuries and complications from those injuries.
It is most obvious when it comes to concussions and brain injuries. Research is lacking, but what we know indicates that women suffer more severe consequences than men. This post examines why this is the case.
Differences in Neck Strength Raise Women's Risk of Soccer Concussions
Researchers have identified low neck mass and strength as the weak link that allows these injuries to occur when it comes to soccer concussions. Women tend to have less neck mass and strength than men do.
When they head the ball or make contact with another player, their necks absorb less force than men do. Contact with a ball or another player results in higher acceleration forces in women, resulting in a more brutal jolt to the skull and brain. That is especially true for girls and young women who haven't yet developed neck muscularity during puberty.
Differences in Hormonal Output Can Worsen Soccer Concussions for Women
Yep, hormones can wreak havoc on a woman who plays soccer. Researchers have identified a correlation between estrogen and progesterone levels and more severe soccer concussions.
One study, in particular, found that women who sustained injuries during the last two weeks of their menstrual cycle had more severe concussion symptoms, especially in the long term. Progesterone is higher during the end of the menstrual cycle, and the brain is more sensitive to fluctuations of this hormone at this point in the cycle.
Here's an interesting fact about progesterone: it can improve a woman's cognitive ability, memory and mood. If she sustains a brain injury in soccer, the production of this hormone slows down. That can make concussion symptoms such as headache, dizziness and nausea more drawn out and noticeable.
Differences in Reporting
Maybe you’ve heard that men fear the doctor. You might even know at least one (or three) male relatives who shy away from the doc's office. This trend is real for athletes as well, and women athletes are more likely to report concussion symptoms than men do.
As a result, female athletes are more likely to get flagged as having a concussion, giving medical experts the impression that concussions are more severe in women. But, men may ignore mild symptoms or downplay more moderate ones. Of course, brushing off any symptoms after a blow to the head is a dangerous mistake to make.
How Women Can Reduce their Soccer Concussion Risk
Reducing the risk of concussions in soccer is vital for all players. But the increased risk of severe injury among women makes it paramount for coaches, parents and players themselves to take precautions. Throughout a series of other posts, we have mentioned some practical steps players can take, and we'll re-emphasize them here for women in soccer to practice.
Wear Concussion Headgear
Women who play the beautiful game, especially at the youth level, should wear soccer concussion headgear. Although soccer headgear doesn't prevent concussions completely, it reduces the impact forces on the neck and skill. For example, research has shown that our ExoShield Headguard reduces concussion forces by as much as 84%. It may significantly decrease the risk of soccer concussions among female players.
Practice Safe Header Technique
Researchers have identified headers as a common cause of soccer concussions and sub-concussive injuries. They're a necessary skill for players, but they need to learn it with safety in mind. That means paying attention to proper form and technique.
Coaches need to teach players how to head the ball with good head positioning and the proper stance. Doing so makes headers safer. Also, coaches mustn't let players head the ball too frequently. Experts recommended that they don't head the ball for specific age groups.
Neck Strengthening & Conditioning
Differences in neck strength and muscle mass are key reasons concussions affect women more severely. They tend to have less neck strength and mass. The best way to counteract this difference is to build the needed strength and mass through regular conditioning. Players can do this through a combination of bodyweight exercises, weight training and dynamic stretches that strengthen neck muscles.
Improve Visual Awareness Skills
Strong visual skills can make good athletes great - they can also keep them safe. Visual skills such as peripheral awareness increase a soccer player's ability to see objects, players and actions that are not directly in front of them. Regarding soccer concussions, strong visual awareness allows players to see their opponents better. It can help reduce head-to-head collisions and, by extension, brain injuries. Female players should practice their visual skills weekly through vision exercises and soccer drills that reinforce good vision.
Soccer Concussions Among Women Still Needs More Research
There's still much to learn about how soccer concussions affect women. Most concussion and brain injury research focuses specifically on men, and it's not 100% reliable cause women suffer different effects than men. It's one of the many ways that women soccer players face inequalities.
However, what women and men share is a need to reduce their concussion risks. Regular conditioning, soccer headgear, and proper technique can keep the dangers of concussions minimal. Women of all ages who take a proactive approach to soccer concussion prevention will play a much safer and more enjoyable game.
Are you looking for better protection against concussions? Check out our ExoShield headguard and how it can reduce brain injury risk.