July 17, 2013

Concussions among women exceed men as awareness is found lacking

By Curtis Eichelberger / Bloomberg News

(Continued from page 1)

"What we found is that whatever shortcomings you bring to the table will be exacerbated when you have a head injury," said Collins, 44, whose four daughters, ages 7 to 10, all play sports. "If you have pre-existing migraines, they will come out. Learning disabilities? Car sickness? Visual problems? It plays dirty and hits where it can hurt you the most."

Concussion symptoms, including amnesia, confusion, headaches, lack of balance, nausea and distorted vision, can reveal themselves immediately or not show up for hours or days, said Hainline, who formerly worked for the United States Tennis Association.

Research shows that men and boys usually suffer concussions running into other athletes such as when they make a tackle or check an opponent. Women get them when they fall to the ground or run into equipment like a ball or goalpost, Hainline said.

The number of concussions tends to decline at higher levels of play.

"Players who may be more susceptible to concussions get knocked out as they move up the ranks," said Ruben Echemendia, a consultant to the National Women's Soccer League and U.S. Soccer. "Others develop better techniques and don't sustain as many concussions."

At lower levels, concussions are more prevalent than when most children's parents played, he said.

"It's true for both guys and girls," said Echemendia, a doctor. "Players are more competitive, their conditioning has improved, their speed and size and strength have improved and they have become more physical."

Peters graduated this spring with a degree in finance and now works at Dick's Sporting Goods corporate headquarters in Coraopolis, Penn.

She loved school, but it became difficult because of her concussion symptoms, she said. They worsened with stress, and there were weeks when she'd have as many as three doctor visits and therapy to improve her vision and balance.

The symptoms, constant medical appointments and school work all weighed on her. Sessions with a psychologist helped her overcome depression and emotional issues related to her injury.

"I would have dreams of getting hit in the head," she said. "I was scared. It consumed my life because I was always at doctors' appointments with symptoms every day. It can be overwhelming."

Regular sleep, a good diet and plenty of fluids helps to alleviate the symptoms, she said, though she still can't overexert herself physically with a two- or three-mile run. Her worst moment of the ordeal was the day the university said she could no longer play soccer.

"I was extremely depressed," she said. "It was a shot to the gut."

Football concussions have been getting attention as thousands of former National Football League players sued the NFL, alleging it knew about head injury risks since the 1970s. The league denies it.

Doctors and trainers say women need to recognize they are more susceptible to concussions than men. They should start a weight program to build up strength in their neck and shoulders and they can work to improve their skills, particularly in soccer, where many young players haven't learned the proper technique to head the ball.

"Too often they just go up and have no control over their action," Michigan State's Covassin said.

Referees can help, too.

"If officials follow the rules and don't allow elbows to come up in close contact to clear out the area, it eliminates some of it," Echemendia, the consultant to U.S. Soccer said.

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