In today’s media, when we hear about concussions and their significance we are almost always discussing their relationship to male football players. What we very rarely see, is information regarding the high rates of concussions in female athletes. Particularity the high concussion rates in female soccer, basketball, and softball players.
In order to more fully understand why this phenomenon occurs it is important that we have a clear definition of what a concussion is. According to the National Athletic Training Association (NATA), “A concussion is a clinical syndrome characterized by immediate and transient impairment of neural functions, such as alteration of consciousness, disturbance of vision, equilibrium, etc., due to mechanical forces.” This is significant to soccer and basketball players because of the recurrent actions that put their head and neck at risk. Soccer players, for example, are prone to head injuries because of their prevalent use of headers in practices and games.
It is important to note that in these sports female athletes are at a significantly higher risk of brain injury then males. According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), female soccer players have a 2.1 higher risk than men. Softball players have a 3.2 higher risk of concussions in comparison to baseball players. And basketball players have up to 1.7 times greater risk.
Saint Kate’s athletic department is required to follow a particular set of rules and regulations put forth by the NCAA. One such requirement is a pre-athletic activity baseline concussion test. Each athlete from all sports must meet with the athletic trainer before any activities involved in their particular sport begin.
This baseline test is conducted by making the athletes preform different tests related to their cognitive function prior to any concussion symptoms. First, they are asked basic questions such as: name, date, and approximately what time it is. Then the test will go on to evaluate memory.
Participants are asked to repeat a set of words that the trainer has listed off. They are also asked to list the months backwards from December to January in order determine recall skills. From here, balance is tested by asking each athlete to stand on one foot with their eyes closed. Often the non-dominate foot is used for this test. Finally, each individual is asked to walk backwards down the length of the trainer’s distance ladder while walking heel to toe, this is done to see how long it takes and weather the individual can do it in a straight line.
After any sustained injury to the head, an athlete will be immediately pulled out of said game to perform these tests again to see if they are as cognitively on par as their original baseline test. If the individual fails the test they will not be allowed to return to any athletic activity until testing is done and the trainer gives them the all clear. It is also a St. Kate’s policy that after three concussions in a single season, that athlete will not be allowed to play for a year.
The athletic staff here at St. Kate’s, like Softball Head Coach, Colleen Powers, strongly expressed that “We especially want to make sure that we are taking great care of our athletes.”
Part of the reason why females are so susceptible to concussions is because of how different our brains and necks are to men. Biologically, females have weaker neck muscles than men. Along with this, a female’s brain functions differently during our childbearing years because of the hormones that our bodies produce in anticipation of creating a child.
One particular hormone is called estradiol. Estradiol is directly linked to the migraines that women commonly experience during their cycle. This is important because the brain reacts to a concussion in a similar way that it reacts to migraines. When you have a migraine, your brain produces a chemical reaction known as, “spreading depressions.” Spreading depressions are, “Waves of depressed electrical activity in the brain,” (National Collegiate Athletic Association). When you become concussed your brain acts in a similar way. This is dangerous because the chemicals in your brain will respond to this imbalance by producing side effects such as:
- Visual loss
- Difficulty speaking
- Loss of consciousness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sleep disturbances or sleepiness
Understanding what concussions are and why they are so significant is extremely vital in finding and implementing preventative actions. At the high school and college levels you can see a significant spike in concussions. To help combat this, the Center for Disease Control has released a webpage with information and resources that coaches and athletes can use to ensure that during their active hours everyone is staying as safe and healthy as possible. For more information, please click HERE to inquire on this website.
Concussions are becoming an increasingly common phenomenon. For this reason, preventative action is of vital importance. Whether you are varsity athlete or a casual exerciser, it is extremely important to take care of yourself and understand your body’s limits. For coaches, -athletic administrators, and coordinators it is essential that athletes are taught the proper ways to handle situations that could potentially lead to injury. It is also of the upmost importance to properly diagnosis and treat a concussion if an accident were to occur. Preventing concussions is extremely important in eliminating the possibility of major health risks later in life.