As a result of having three daughters I read practically any and all research regarding concussion in girls and women. Based on the scant research that exists there is evidence there are clear differences between men/boys from women/girls in regards to concussion. This current study, albeit small, found women may be at greater risk when heading a soccer ball then men.
The authors examined the brains of 49 male and 49 female amateur soccer players who reported a similar number of headings in the previous season. Half of the men had at least 487 headings and half of the women had at least 469. Their brains were looked at by a special MRI that detects subtle brain damage by measuring the direction of the diffusion of water in the white matter of the brain. Scans showed that the volume of damaged white matter in women was five times greater than it was for men, they also showed women had eight brain regions where greater levels of heading were associated with structural damage, compared with only three regions in men. Men and women in the study were similar in many ways. For example, they started playing soccer around the same age and played for roughly the same number of years, and they also played with similar frequency.
It is important to note that this sample size is small so it is hard to extrapolate the results to the entire population of soccer players. It was thought that the difference between men and women was due to women reporting their injury more than men. This study suggests that different outcomes from brain injuries in women and men can’t be explained by reporting because all of the participants in the current study experienced similar numbers of headings. This study shows greater sensitivity to brain injury in women over men.
What is unfortunate is that the authors of this study and other “experts” in the field of concussion do not have many answers for why. In interviews related to this study researchers largely don’t have many answers as to why women are predisposed to greater damage. They don’t even have answers to what the actual cause of the damage is because the research is not definitive that heading even causes a concussion. So once more we are left with incomplete information on the topic of concussions leading to greater ambiguity on the subject. In our concussion workshop, Concussion Roulette, we discuss what is going on with concussions and what the best course of action is based on what we know today in an attempt to end the ambiguity. If you are interested in having us speak on concussion at your next team meeting or boosters club event email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.