How Concussions Affect Female Athletes | Mary Hayashi
Mary Hayashi – Concussions have been a growing concern in sports for several years. From football to soccer, athletes are at risk of sustaining these traumatic brain injuries during games and practices. However, many overlook that concussions affect female athletes more than males.
Studies have shown that female athletes are more likely to sustain concussions than males in several sports, including soccer, basketball, and ice hockey. The American Journal of Sports Medicine published a study in 2016 that examined sex differences in concussion symptom severity and recovery in high school and college athletes. The study found that female athletes had more severe symptoms and took longer to recover compared to male athletes.
Another study published in 2023 by CNN also found that female athletes are at a higher risk for concussions than males. The article cited several reasons, including differences in neck strength, hormonal fluctuations, and playing style. For example, in sports like soccer and basketball, females are more likely to use their heads to hit the ball or collide with other players, increasing the risk of a concussion.
“Many people overlook the fact that concussions affect female athletes more than males.” – Mary Hayashi
The symptoms of concussions in female athletes may be more severe and longer-lasting than in males. This is because females have a smaller head circumference and less neck strength, which can lead to a more significant impact force on the brain during a hit. Hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle can also affect the severity and duration of symptoms.
Despite these findings, concussions in female athletes have been largely overlooked, partly because many studies and concussion protocols are based on male athletes. However, as more research is conducted, it is becoming increasingly clear that females are at a higher risk for concussions and require different protocols for prevention and treatment.
Coaches, trainers, and parents of female athletes must become more aware of this issue and take action to prevent and treat concussions. This can include implementing proper equipment, such as helmets and neck braces, encouraging proper technique and playing style, and educating athletes on the signs and symptoms of concussions.
Mary Hayashi’s Takeaways
It’s clear that more research needs to be conducted on concussions in female athletes, and protocols need to be developed that consider the unique characteristics and risks of female athletes. Organizations such as the Women’s Sports Foundation and Pink Concussions are working to raise awareness of this issue and advocate for change.
This issue is also something that I, Mary Hayashi, have a personal passion for. In a previous role, I was the project director of the Women’s Sports Safety Initiative. As a national healthcare leader, non-profit director, and a former California state assembly member, I have championed meaningful reforms for various healthcare issues, including concussion safety. In 2011, I authored AB 25, a bill establishing the most rigid return-to-play laws for student-athletes. The bill was co-sponsored by the National Football League, and AB 25 requires a school district to immediately remove an athlete from a school-sponsored athletic activity if he or she is suspected of sustaining a concussion or head injury. In 2012, I also authored AB 1451, which adds concussion training to the first-aid certification required of every high school coach.
5 Ways To Prevent Concussions in Female Athletes – Mary Hayashi
#1: Increase Awareness
Raising awareness is one of the most effective strategies to prevent concussions in female athletes. Education and awareness campaigns can help increase understanding of concussion risk, prevention, and management among female athletes, coaches, and parents. This could include information on the signs and symptoms of concussion, the importance of seeking medical attention, and strategies for preventing concussions.
Sports organizations, schools, and community organizations could organize these campaigns. They can disseminate information through various channels, such as social media, websites, brochures, and workshops. The information should be presented in an accessible, engaging format that resonates with the target audience. For instance, using sports celebrities or role models to endorse the message may increase its impact.
#2: Improve Sports Equipment
Studies suggest that female athletes may have weaker neck muscles than male athletes, making them more vulnerable to concussions. Equipment that better protects the head and neck, such as improved helmets or neck-strengthening exercises, may help reduce the risk of concussion in female athletes.
For instance, helmets with a multi-layered system of protection or better cushioning may absorb more of the impact, reducing the force of the blow to the head. Additionally, helmets that provide better coverage to the head and neck may help reduce the risk of concussion. Strengthening the neck muscles through exercises can also help reduce the risk of concussion by improving the ability to absorb shock and stabilize the head.
#3: Adjust Game Rules
Another possible strategy to reduce the risk of concussion in female athletes is adjusting game rules. Some sports have made rule changes to reduce the risk of concussions, such as banning headers in youth soccer. Similar changes could be made in other sports to reduce the risk of concussions in female athletes.
For example, in ice hockey, female athletes could be prohibited from checking or engaging in physical contact, which is a leading cause of concussions. In basketball, rules could be modified to prohibit charging or collisions. In volleyball, players could catch the ball instead of using their heads to avoid head impacts.
#4: Encourage Reporting and Proper Management
Female athletes may be less likely to report concussions or seek medical attention due to a perceived stigma or pressure to keep playing. Encouraging a reporting culture and proper management, such as requiring baseline concussion testing and following return-to-play protocols, can help reduce the risk of long-term consequences from concussions.
For instance, schools and sports organizations can establish protocols for managing concussions, including concussion evaluation, treatment, and return-to-play guidelines. Coaches can be trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of concussion and to emphasize the importance of player safety. Athletes can also be encouraged to report any symptoms or concerns, even if they seem minor.
#5: Conduct More Research
Further research is needed to understand the sex differences in concussion risk and outcomes and to develop evidence-based prevention and management strategies for female athletes.
Research can help identify the specific risk factors and causes of concussions in female athletes and inform the development of tailored prevention and management strategies. It can also help identify any biases or gaps in the current approach to concussion management and highlight areas that require further attention. Additionally, research can help raise awareness and change the culture around concussions in sports by providing evidence-based recommendations.
Mary Hayashi is Committed to Preventing Concussions in Female Athletes
It’s time to take action and address the alarming fact that concussions affect more female than male athletes. Although my legislative measures as “Mary Hayashi – former CA Assemblywoman” are a significant step forward, we as a society must recognize the severe impact of concussions on the lives of these athletes and take steps to prevent them from happening in the first place. This includes increasing education and awareness about concussion risks and symptoms, implementing effective prevention strategies, and providing proper medical care and support for those who suffer a concussion. If we don’t take action now, we risk putting countless female athletes at risk for long-term brain damage and other serious health consequences. So let’s come together, prioritize the health and safety of our female athletes, and work towards a future where concussions are a thing of the past.
“As a society, we must recognize the serious impact of concussions on the lives of these athletes and take steps to prevent them from happening in the first place.” – Mary Hayashi
About Mary Hayashi
Mary Hayashi is a respected healthcare leader and former California State Assemblymember. She has over two decades of experience in healthcare and public service, having served on several boards and committees related to health policy and advocacy. During her time in the Assembly, Hayashi authored vital legislation to improve access to healthcare and mental health services, particularly for underserved and vulnerable communities. She is also a strong advocate for the rights of patients and healthcare workers. Hayashi’s work has earned her numerous awards and recognitions, including the California Primary Care Association’s “Legislator of the Year” award and the Women’s Foundation of California’s “Women’s Policy Maker Award.” Today, Hayashi continues to be a passionate voice for healthcare reform and mental health issues, advocating for increased investment in resources for mental health professionals and better care for all. Learn more about Mary and her mental health advocacy here.