Teenage girls playing football have twice the concussion risk of boys, Scottish study finds

Teenage girls playing football are at almost twice the risk of concussion compared to teenage boys, a Glasgow University study has found.

Teenage girls are also less likely to be removed from play after injury, and take longer to recover than their male counterparts.

It comes amid growing concern over long-term effects of brain injury in sport, especially relating to Alzheimer’s and dementia.

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Glasgow University Honorary Professor Professor Willie Stewart studied three years of injury data for female high-school footballers in the Michigan High School Athletic Association, working in collaboration with researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Michigan State University,

Picture: Keith Johnston

The researchers compared the data for 40,000 female teenagers with a similar number of male counterparts, in the most detailed study of its kind to date.

The study found that the rate of concussion among female players was almost double – 1.88 times – the rate among male players.

It also identified several differences in the way injuries affect boys’ and girls’, and in the way those injuries are managed.

Researchers said the findings highlight the importance of specific approaches for each group.

Boys were most often injured colliding with another player and were 1.5 times more likely to be removed from play on the day of injury.

Girls were most often injured from contact with equipment, such as the ball or a goalpost, and they took on average two days longer to recover from injury and return to play.

Dr Abigail Bretzin, lead author of the study and postdoctoral fellow and certified athletic trainer at the University of Pennsylvania, said: “This is the first study to look in this detail at sex-associated differences in concussion management and outcomes in teenage footballers.

"Our findings add to research showing that female athletes are at increased concussion risk compared to male athletes, and highlight the importance of sex-specific research in this field.”

Prof Stewart, senior author of the study, said: “Given we know the importance of immediate removal from play for any athlete with suspected concussion, it is notable that “if in doubt, sit them out” appears more likely to happen for boys than girls.

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"This, together with the finding that mechanism of injury appears different between boys and girls, suggests that there might be value in sex-specific approaches to concussion education and management in this age group.”

The paper ‘Sex-associated differences in adolescent soccer concussion incidence and characteristics’ is published in JAMA Network Open.

The work was funded by The Football Association and The Professional Footballers Association, NHS Research Scotland, the Penn Injury Science Center and a Brain Injury Training Grant.

It comes after a new study into the links between brain injury in contact sports and dementia issued a call for volunteers in Scotland.

The PREVENT:RFC study, funded by the Alzheimer’s Society, will be based in Edinburgh under the charge of principal investigator Professor Craig Ritchie, who will work alongside Professor Willie Stewart.

The Alzheimer’s Society had previously funded an informal study looking into the same issue in football.

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