Female high school athletes are sustaining concussions at a higher rate than their male peers, according to a new study published by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Within competitive sports, females were 12.1% more likely to suffer a concussion than male athletes, The Washington Post reports. The research team from Northwestern and Wake Forest Universities focused on girls soccer, basketball, softball, and volleyball, as well as boys soccer, football, basketball, wrestling, and baseball.
Girls soccer showed the highest rates, with concussions accounting for 34.5% of injuries between 2014 and 2015. To compare injuries within the same sport, The Washington Post reports that concussions made up 25.6% of injuries in girls basketball, while only accounting for 8.8% of injuries in boys basketball. This difference is largely due to the difference in neck development between the genders, Wellington Hsu, one of the study authors and orthopedic surgery professor at Northwestern University, said in a statement to The Washington Post.
“The neck muscles of girls just aren’t as developed as boys are,” he said. “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.”
The study also pointed to a rise in these injuries over the past five years, with girls soccer concussion rates rising from 15.2% of all injuries in 2005 to 34.5% in 2015. According to the study’s press release, the authors believe that this could be due to a lack of protective gear. This paired with girls possibly playing more intensely than boys adds up to higher injury risk, Geoff Manley, co-director of the Brain and Spinal Injury Center at the University of California-San Francisco and chief of neurosurgery at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, said in a statement to The Washington Post.
“We’ve seen a lot of data come out of women’s soccer that shows the women may very well be playing harder than the men,” he said. “These are tremendous athletes with incredible skill who play really hard, and there is no protection.”
Overall, youth sports are a significant source of injury in the United States. According to data by Johns Hopkins, sports injuries account for one-third of all childhood injuries. The most common injuries are strains and sprains. Nationally, 25,000 people are treated for an ankle sprain each day.
The study’s authors hope that this study will bring awareness to concussion prevention, Hsu said in the press release.
“While American football has been both scientifically and colloquially associated with the highest concussion rates, our study found that girls, and especially those who play soccer, may face a higher risk,” he said. “The new knowledge presented in this study can lead to policy and prevention measures to potentially halt these trends.”