Concussion Rate High for Teen Girl Athletes

By Briana Vannozzi

In his 38 years of coaching soccer, Paul Heenehan says he’s watched the game grow dangerously more aggressive.

“If we made the game a little less physical you would probably take concussions out of the mix even more so,” Heenehan said.

Out of this group of Ramapo High School soccer players, more than half have suffered a concussion, and half of those have had multiple.

“The first one I went up for a header and the girl collided heads with me and I fell to the ground and hit my head. And the second a girl ran straight into me and I hit my head on the ground,” said Erin Stagg Ramapo High School sophomore .

The rates aren’t unique to this school. Concussion centers like the one at St. Joseph’s Hospital are treating four to five young females a week for sports related head injuries.

“We’re seeing twice the rate as young men right now, especially in the teenage years. It’s quite startling and the severity of the concussions is quite significant,” said Dr. Vincent McInerney, director of sports medicine at St. Joseph’s Healthcare System.

Dr. McInerney says part of that may be because women are more anatomically prone.

“It’s mainly because of the musculature not being able to hold the head in position as well so that’s where we’re seeing the problems and plus when women jump in the air to head a ball, let’s say in soccer, they tend to put their arms together they put their heads toward each other and they hit each other’s heads,” he said.

“When we talk about heading in our program, we talk about understanding what balls should be headed. Understanding body position previous to heading. You can’t be out of position. You can’t be off balance,” Heenehan said. “I’m not sure the contact of the ball on the head is the issue. I’m really not sure about that. I think it’s more the physical confrontation that occurs.”

“It definitely gets more aggressive in high school, 100 percent, compared to even eighth grade. The second you step into high school it gets a lot more physical,” Capozzi said. So a lot more room for injuries? “Yeah, definitely,” she said.

“We’re looking to now change some of the rules for women’s sports and hopefully men too to make it safer to play so it’s not so aggressive. It doesn’t need to be that way,” Dr. McInerney said.

Like limiting head balls for young athletes and educating coaches, refs and parents on aggressive play. Concussions also present differently in women.

“They tend to be a bit more acute and long lasting,” Dr. McInerney said.

Protective head gear has been around for several years, but for both players and coaches, it’s never really gained traction.

Many have mixed feelings.

When asked if she felt like if she was more of a target when wearing head gearm Izzi Boomhower said, “Yes, because it shows that you’re a little bit weaker if you’re the only one wearing one.”

“We’re out there now to really change society’s look at this and if it means changing the rules and everything else so be it,” Dr. McInerney said.

Concussions are cumulative, and the long-term damage is still being studied.