New studies give heads up to female soccer players

By Teaira Marque | gargoyle@flagler.edu

When playing soccer, heading was just another technique to Marisa Strawn. She had never considered that there could be consequences until she suffered her first real concussion during a game her sophomore year.

“It was easily the one of the scariest things I’ve ever experienced,” said Strawn, center mid-field for the Flagler College women’s soccer team. She said she continued to feel off balance and confusion even 15 minutes after regaining consciousness.

For many athletes, this is a common occurrence. Sports are second only to car crashes as the leading cause of concussions amongst those between the ages of 15 to 24, according to the American Journal of Sports Medicine. But while football still tops the list with the most concussions, new studies show that girls’ soccer actually follows closely behind.

Strawn suffered another, milder concussion mid-game in October of 2012 after hitting the back of her head against her opponent’s face. She said she got the “better end of the injury,” as her opponent ended up with a broken cheekbone. Strawn admits to being dizzy and nauseous immediately after gaining consciousness from her minute-long black out.

“It never scared me to head the ball,” said Strawn, who’s been playing soccer since age five. “If I play with the fear of getting hurt always in the back of my head, I won’t be successful.”

However, researchers are discovering more reasons to be afraid as evidence in sports-related head injuries, such as concussions, have called for more attention to caring for sports injuries. And women’s soccer has become one of the leading sports to call for concern.

A concussion is described as a minor traumatic brain injury that may occur when the head hits an object, or a moving object strikes the head. Many researchers are pointing to “heading,” when a player uses his or her forehead to strike the ball, as a reason for the increase in concussions amongst female soccer players.

Research shows that females experience nearly twice as many concussions as males, and also take longer to recover, according to studies by Dr. Robert Cantu of Brigham and Woman’s Hospital in Boston. Cantu has said it may be due to the female anatomy.

“Women who play the same sports as men don’t work at developing their neck muscles,” said Cantu, a concussions expert. “The neck is your shock absorber.”

There are others who agree.

A study at the Ohio State University said females have smaller head-to-ball ratios or weaker necks than males who played soccer.

With athletes suffering from concussions on the rise, a concussions law was passed in more than 30 states. Florida’s took effect in 2012. The law varies from state-to-state, but Florida requires coaches and trainers to be educated on concussions and the removal of players who have a concussion.

“[An athlete] also has to be cleared once they’ve sustained a concussion to play again,” said Randy Heath, the assistant physician at Healing Arts Urgent Care of St. Augustine. “Concussions can last from days to weeks, which we then diagnose as post-concussion syndrome.”

This is when someone continues to experience the symptoms of having a concussion, which can include but aren’t limited to sever headaches, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision and confusion.

Heath said that because of findings within sports like football and boxing, doctors are looking more into repeated concussions that can cause long-term brain damage.

“Muhammed Ali is a great example,” said Heath. “He has Pugilistic Perkins because he’s been hit in the head too many times.”

Like some schools, Flagler College has policies to handle concussions and has been following them since April of 2010. Strawn also recalls being required to take a concussions test.

“This is on the computer and it’s a program that tests one’s reaction time, memory skills and other mental capabilities,” she said.

After receiving a concussion, the only way for an athlete to play is if they repeat the test and get the same score.

Strawn said that Flagler College’s athletic trainers do well and show a lot of concern for their athletes.

The stage three concussion Strawn experienced hasn’t stopped her from playing, but it has made her more cautious of how she plays.

“As long as girls take care of their bodies, then I feel they can play a game of soccer and be concussion free,” she said.

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