The Complexities of Concussions

Zoey Towner, Editor/Reporter

A soccer player who has been on recreational and club teams for many years. She has has a few small injuries, and maybe had a few minor hits to the head, but never anything too serious. She gets to high school and makes the soccer team, where she gets to play with some of the best players, and compete with some of the best teams.

Then one game she is running with the ball, when someone comes to take the ball from her. She gets knocked to the ground, hitting the back of her head. She gets pulled out of the game and evaluated on the sidelines, then referred to her to her doctor, where it is determined that she has a serious concussion.

This story, or ones like it, have become all too familiar for high school girls playing soccer. When talking to soccer players at Pres, or just hearing about high school soccer culture, it seems that concussions have become an accepted risk of playing the sport.

According to studies from The American Journal of Sports Medicine and the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeon, in recent years concussion rates for girls in soccer have been on the rise, with girls having higher concussion rates than boys, in the contact same sports like soccer and basketball.

While athletes who play the sport must deal with the risk of concussions, high school players must also deal with the short and long term effects of concussions. These effects can impact players’ not just on the field, but in their schoolwork too.

The risk of concussions and high rates for girls playing soccer are definitely real and prominent in the high school soccer environment today. But the causes  of this disparity between boys’ and girls’ concussion rates, who are playing the same sports, needs to be taken into consideration, whether that be the small differences of who is playing, or the truth of the data itself.

When looking at studies from the last 20 years, high school girls’ soccer appears to have one of the highest rates of concussions, with newer research showing female soccer players getting the most concussions out of all the sports that were studied.

According to a 1997 and 2007 study in The American Journal of Sports Medicine, “Girls’ soccer had the most concussions among the girls’ sports and the second-highest incidence rate of all 12 sports (0.35).”

A later study from the American Academy of Orthopedic surgeons that came out in 2017 found that “During the years after TBI law enactment (2010 to 2015), the concussion rate was higher in girls soccer than boys football, and during the 2014-2015 school year, concussions were more common in girls soccer than any other sport.”

Most studies cannot fully conclude why exactly girls’ soccer has such high concussion rates. Some experts, as well as players, like Senior Kendall Brinck, believe that headers could be a significant factor.

“I believe high school girls have a higher concussion rate than other sports because we are always heading the ball without protection on our heads” says Brinck.

Other players like junior Josefine Ackley agree that headers are a big part of why so many female soccer players get concussions, but add the reasoning of why girls’ soccer surpasses boys’ in concussion rates.

“Most of it, it’s your neck, and if your neck isn’t strong, your brain moves when you’re heading the ball,” says Ackley.

One of the authors of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons study and professor of orthopedic surgery, Wellington Hsu, supports the beliefs of these players, saying “The neck muscles of girls just aren’t as developed as boys are…so if girls experience an impact, it makes sense they might be affected by it more than boys if they don’t have the muscles to cushion that impact.”

One conclusion that can be drawn from the statistics that show higher concussion rates for girls’ soccer are the rate at which concussions from different sports are being reported.

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, “the rise in concussion rates reflects the enactment and enforcement of TBI laws throughout the U.S., which have led to greater awareness of concussions by first responders—coaches, parents and athletic trainers—as well as better recognition of symptoms by players and a more open culture of communication within teams and school.”

Though girls’ soccer has become the high school sport with the highest concussion rate, this may just be for lack of reporting for other sports, such as football.

Presentation Athletic Trainer, Heather Terbeek explains how the data might not be telling the whole story, saying “I would say [girls’ soccer] is definitely one of the higher reported [sports] in general. Part of that, I think, is there is some research that suggest reporting rates are higher versus boys. There might be the mantra, “oh suck it up”…whereas girls aren’t pushed to do that as much.”  

When looking at how concussions are a part of soccer culture, most players say that it is just an accepted risk.

Junior Elizabeth Blach expresses this, saying “When I hear someone got a concussion, I feel bad for them, but it has definitely become more normalized because a lot of my teammates and friends have gotten concussions.”