Female college athletes experience higher rate of concussion over 15-year period

The discussion about head injuries and their lasting effects has mainly involved contact sports, with many cases involving retired professional football players. But in addition to these older men, college-aged women are experiencing concussions at a higher rate than their male counterparts.

A study—published in the December issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons—examined 1,200 students over a 15-year period.

Led by Cecilia Davis-Hayes, a medical student at Columbia University in New York, the research found females (23.3 percent) experiences concussion more frequently than males (17 percent). The team also discovered those who had previously been concussed were three times more likely to suffer a contact sport-related concussion.

"Concussion injuries in football, for instance, receive the lion's share of media attention, but in our study female athletes were more likely to suffer a concussion injury," said Davis-Hayes. "The greater the number of reported post-concussion symptoms, the greater the likelihood the athlete will have a prolonged recovery period and a longer to return to play than athletes reporting fewer symptoms. This was more prevalent among female compared to male contact sport athletes."

The team included three recommendations for coaches and parents:

1. Be aware concussions are more common in female athletes.

2. Create an environment that encourages reporting injuries and concussion symptoms.

3. Understand concussed athletes with severe symptoms and/or more symptoms will require a longer recovery period.

"While our study was not designed to explain why the latter occurred, one can reason that more symptomatic patients are experiencing a more severe injury requiring a longer recovery period," said Davis-Hayes.