Female Athletes More Prone to Concussions than Male Counterparts, Study Finds

Dec 8, 2017

New York

Milscin Hospital Building

Female collegiate athletes are more likely to experience a concussion than their male counterparts during their tenure, according to a recent study conducted at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. The study is the largest from a single institution to compare concussion rates in men and women who play collegiate contact/collision sports.

The findings were published today in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

“I was compelled to explore factors that may contribute to young athletes experiencing and reporting concussion because of my involvement in their clinical care,” said Dr. James M. Noble, neurologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia, assistant professor of neurology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and co-author of the study.

The researchers analyzed data on 1,200 varsity athletes, 822 males and 378 females, in contact and collision sports at Columbia University from 2000-2014. They found that more than 23 percent of female athletes experienced a sports-related concussion, versus 17 percent of male athletes. The athletes played a variety of sports including football, soccer, basketball, and lacrosse.

“While this study didn’t examine the reason for sex-based differences in concussion rates, some researchers have hypothesized that differences in rules or manner of play, neck strength and head mass, injury-reporting patterns, or hormonal differences might account for different concussion rates,” said Dr. Noble. “There is also some emerging evidence of sex-based differences in the brain’s biomechanical response to strain and forces such as those experienced by athletes with concussion.”

Student athletes were assessed for 15 concussion symptoms, including headache, impaired concentration, dizziness, and sleep disturbance. Overall, athletes reported an average of 5.6 symptoms, with no statistically significant difference in symptoms between men and women. Predictive data analysis found that having a greater number of post-concussion symptoms was predictive of a longer healing process and a longer delay in returning to play for both men and women athletes.

The researchers also found that athletes who had prior concussions were more likely than non-concussed athletes to have a recurrence. The study supports several others that identified memory impairment after concussion as a symptom more common in men than women, and sleep disturbances as more common among women than men.

Dr. Noble led a team of researchers that included Dr. William N. Levine, orthopedic surgeon-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center and the Frank E. Stinchfield Professor and Chairman, Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, and several others from the Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons and Columbia Athletics.

To read the study in full, click here.

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