Women’s Soccer Head Injury

Women are just as susceptible as men in sports to suffer traumatic head injury, says a University of Texas at Austin expert.

Head injuries in men playing sports surface in the news more often, however, many don’t realize that traumatic head injuries for women are on the rise. According to a study by The Center for Disease Control, traumatic brain injury (TBI) hospitalizations have increased by 20% from 2001 to 2010.

Traumatic brain injuries result from “repetitive, frequent, and forceful head impacts,” and later on may produce “neurological conflicts such as dementia, 20 years down the road if not diagnosed early on,” says Department of Kinesiology and Health Education at UT, Dr. Steven Kornguth. Since the skull stops the brain as its moving forward, allowing the brain to move back and forth repeatedly, nothing prevents the brain from the hit.

In sports, society accepts aggressive behavior as a natural part of the game. Soccer displays this most obviously with the “head butt” move, where players use their head to move the ball in hopes of scoring. Although men and women use their head in the game, however, “women tend to receive TBI’s due to their necks not having the same strength seen in a man’s neck,” Dr. Kornguth said. “Biologically speaking women are built with shorter, weaker neck stems that when hit with such force, usually cannot withstand the same whiplash as a man could.”

Last year Austin High Women’s Head Soccer Coach Amy Simpson witnessed several players receive head blows and having to sit out until they were healed. “ The nature of the game has changed, girls are much more aggressive, and the gap between men and women’s soccer is closing; It is very hard to tell my kids to sit out when I know so much is on the line, such as college scholarships,” Coach Simpson said.

Although Coach Simpson requires players to be aware of the consequences TBI’s have on an individual’s neurological skills, they urge to play.The limited amount of help from protective equipment allows them to have no real assistance.

“Providing my girls with protective head gear was a waste because even when you think you’re taking strides in protecting the safety of your players, the padding doesn’t do much but soften the blow,” Simpson said. “ A colleague once told me a great analogy, you got to look at the brain as an egg, you can’t keep the yolk in the shell once hit, once you drop it, it’s going to move.”

Although not much prevents a TBI, this hasn’t stopped women’s soccer teams from doing what they can to protect their players. Recent graduate and former Texas women’s soccer player Kara Hoffman has participated in UT’s effort to diminish head injuries. “ People are pretty smart about what they do on the field, but sometimes its unavoidable, thus, the university requires we take a baseline concussion test, it’s actually pretty difficult because it tests your reaction time, balance, and memory,” Hoffman said. The testing protects the player by keeping their mental health in check.

Every student must take the test in the beginning of the season in to be allowed to play. “So if I ever got hit in a game and came out, I would have to retake that test and they would compare the scores,” Hoffman said.

Simpson agreed that the best way to protect girls is to do the best you can in picking the right time to be aggressive versus being on the safer side. While soccer players, especially women, may be informed with the dangers of the game, there isn’t much else to do for protection except for just that, being informative. “ We can’t make heading illegal in soccer, its part of the game, we just have to teach kids to protect themselves as best as they can.”

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