This is a story about athletes and concussions.
When you read that sentence, what picture popped into your mind: 250-pound football players… or 10-year-old girls with ponytails? According to research published in The American Journal of Sports Medicine, the severity of symptoms after a concussion is–in part–dependent on the age and gender of the patient. Girls and young women suffer worse symptoms than men, and young people suffer more than older people.
The study tested young athletes for balance and verbal and visual memory. Researchers tracked the athletes for two years. In that time, about 300 of the athletes received a concussion and were tested again. Results showed that high school athletes performed worse for their age than college-aged athletes, and that female athletes with concussion had more symptoms and worse visual memory than male athletes with concussion. In addition, symptoms lasted longer in younger athletes than in older athletes.
According to an article in The New York Times:
The findings suggest that because of anatomical differences that make them more vulnerable, female athletes, and younger athletes in particular, may need to be managed more cautiously after a concussion, said Tracey Covassin, an associate professor of kinesiology at Michigan State University and the lead author of the report.
“Parents need to understand that if their daughter has a concussion, that they may potentially take longer to recover from that concussion than their son who is a football player,” she said.
Experts think that younger brains suffer greater damage from concussion because they haven’t fully developed…and because we tend to treat them as miniature adults when it comes to sports and expectations. According to Mark Hyman, author of “Until It Hurts: America’s Obsession With Youth Sports and How It Harms Our Kids” (Beacon Press, 2009):
“The brain and head of a small child are disproportionately large for the rest of the body,” he said. “The result is that their heads are not as steady on their shoulders. When they take a big hit in a football game or are slammed with an elbow in a soccer game, their brains move inside their skulls. That’s when concussions occur.”
To read an abstract of the article in The American Journal of Sports Medicine, click here: The role of age and sex in symptoms after concussion
To read the full article in The New York Times, click here: Concussions May Be More Severe in Girls and Young Athletes