Concussions Affect Women More. Should They Wear Soccer Headgear?
Nov 15, 2023
After countless doctors told her she was beyond recovery, legendary U.S. goalkeeper, Brianna Scurry, underwent surgery to relieve the aftereffects of her career-ending concussion. An occipital nerve release finally ended the excruciating headaches, blurred vision and depression that she had endured since 2010. But she only had the surgery in 2013, after doctors dismissed her and said she would spend the rest of her life suffering these symptoms.
Although this story ends triumphantly, it highlights the lack of urgency and dismissiveness researchers have shown towards understanding female brain injury in soccer. We’re only now beginning to understand how head impacts affect women differently than men.
In this post, we’ll take a look at what these differences look like, and why women should consider wearing soccer protective gear to stay safe.
What Happens to the Female Brain in Soccer Impacts
Essentially, women fare worse than men do after sustaining a concussion or subconcussive injury. They’re likely to feel more pronounced symptoms and experience a longer recovery period than men. Also, the rate of re-injury seems higher among girls and women. In terms of symptoms, girlsmay also experience certain ones more frequently than guys, such as:
- Noticeable declines in cognitive function (i.e., concentration, decision-making)
- Dizziness and balance issues
- Depression, anxiety and mood disturbances
Now it’s known that women tend to be more vocal about reporting symptoms than men— male athletes often tend to exhibit an air of machismo. So it’s possible that men could face similar symptoms at similar rates, but just don’t admit it. Also, womens’ perception of pain often differs to those of men, so that too could influence what symptoms they report. But if we look beneath the surface, at the brain itself, it’s clear that the biological response to brain injury among the sexes differs.
Female Brain vs Male Brain After Soccer Headers
A study published back in 2018, pointed out the difference between male and female brains after ball heading. The journal Radiology reported two distinct patterns, with the female brain scans showing more damage to their brain structure than men. The women showed damage in eight regions of the brain, compared to men who showed damage in just three main areas. Also, the women showed a fivefold increase in the volume of white matter damage. And what symptoms appear when a brain sustains white matter damage?
- Cognitive impairment
- Loss of balance and coordination
- Vision loss
- Severe headaches
These are the symptoms that crippled Brianna Scurry, and what many female players report (more often than men) after a brain injury. So it’s clear that the sexes don’t experience brain injuries in the same way.
Now that we can see how these differences look, what we’re waiting to understand is why there is a difference. For concussions, researchers are convinced that differences in hormones and smaller neck mass make women more susceptible to brain injuries with greater severity. As for subconcussive damage, the jury’s still out.
Why Risk Reduction is the Name of the Game for Women
What we do know for sure, is that women players need to put more effort into protecting their brains. The emerging research we’ve discussed makes that clear, along with stories of players like Brianna Scurry that highlight what can happen after a concussion. But what’s the best way to protect the head?
Enter Soccer Headgear
Yes, we know soccer headgear is controversial. We know researchers have said there’s little evidence to support headgear’s ability to reduce brain injury risk. But that’s a generalization.
Most soccer headgear lacks safety certifications, and several models that have been studied underperformed in third-party tests. So yes, those ones aren’t worth your time.
But if you take a look at our ExoShield headguard, for example, it stands out because it actually meets safety standards. It was the top-performing headgear model in the Virginia Tech Helmet study, demonstrating an ability to reduce impact forces by 84%, and g forces by 50%. It’s also the only headgear with an ASTM-certification, a century-old designation given to products that deliver the highest level of safety for their given application.
It’s very likely that if you head the ball with our headguard, you might not feel anything afterwards such as the “footballer's migraine” that so many get. Headgear may not prevent all brain injuries, but it offers a degree of protection that an exposed head simply does not.
Of course, a soccer concussion head guard isn’t the end-all, be-all of head protection. Some of the best ways to reduce brain injury risk don’t cost you anything but an investment of time and effort. And they can make you a better player too.
Putting the Basics into Practice
- Strengthen the neck since a stronger neck absorbs impact forces better.
- Practice visual awareness exercises to help you avoid colliding with other players.
- Limit how often you practice ball heading in practices and games.
- Refine your ball heading technique.
These are research-backed and coach-supported techniques that can significantly lessen the trauma of head impacts.
The Direction of Brain Injury Research in Female Soccer Players is Changing
There’s no denying that concussion research has largely been focused on men, leaving women in the dark. What’s troubling is there could be a generation of female players who are suffering the effects of brain injuries, and doctors won’t notice until it’s too late.
However, women can look to the emerging record of male players who are now being diagnosed posthumously with CTE. These discoveries can serve as cautionary tales and an incentive for women to protect themselves from brain injuries the best way they can. If we can instill brain safety in soccer’s youngest female populations now, we can spare them from the fate of Brianna Scurry and presumably, countless others.
Looking to reduce your concussion and brain injury risk? Check out our ExoShield headguard to learn how it can keep you safe!