October 2, 2012

VU study shows no gender gap in sports concussions

A new study conducted to review symptoms and neurocognitive findings in male and female high school soccer players revealed no gender-related differences.

Local high school athlete Amanda Torrez receives an examination from Andrew Gregory, M.D., following a sport-related injury. Photo by Daniel Dubois/Vanderbilt.

As female participation in sports grows rapidly, there is a popular notion that there are gender-related differences in athletes’ responses to sports-related concussion, and prior research has supported these gender discrepancies.

However, a Vanderbilt University Medical Center study, conducted to review symptoms and neurocognitive findings in male and female high school soccer players, shows no gender-related differences.

Scott Zuckerman, M.D. Photo by Anne Rayner/Vanderbilt

“There has been good data that suggests girls score worse on neurocognitive testing following a sports-related concussion. Our hypothesis was that a tightly-controlled study would replicate what others have shown previously,” said Scott Zuckerman, M.D., a neurosurgery resident who conducted the study with colleagues at the Vanderbilt Sports Concussion Center.

The study, “Response to acute concussive injury in soccer players: is gender a modifying factor? Clinical article,” published in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics, is available online.

The researchers selected 40 male and 40 female concussed patients who were matched, as closely as possible, for age, medical/psychiatric history, years of education, lack of special education assistance, history of psychiatric treatment, number of prior concussions, timing of pre- and post-concussion testing, and sport (all engaged in soccer).

This is the first study to control for type of sport played when looking a gender differences, Zuckerman said.

“Prior studies have used mixed groups of athletes from a variety of sports.  We suspected that since concussions vary from sport to sport (i.e., helmets vs. none, varying biomechanical forces, etc.), if the variable of sport was controlled, gender differences might disappear.”

The only significant gender-related difference they could identify was that female soccer players reported a greater number of symptoms post-concussion. There were no significant differences in post-concussion neurocognitive scores.

“We were somewhat surprised and were not sure what to expect in such a tightly controlled population,” Zuckerman said. “Our hypothesis was that females would experience greater levels of acute, post-concussive, neurocognitive impairment than males, fitting with what most of the prior literature says, but we found virtually no difference between males and females.”

Zuckerman said this is a significant finding for the treatment of sports-related concussion.

“When we see any child after concussion, we don’t want to make snap decisions based on gender. [lquote]Gender may not be as big a modifying factor as previously thought.[/lquote]”

This study is the first from V-SCoRe, or Vanderbilt Sports Concussion Research. Collaborators include Allen Sills, M.D., Gary Solomon, Ph.D., Andrew Gregory, M.D., Alex Diamond, D.O., and Jonathan Forbes, M.D., and medical students Mitchell Odom and Young Lee.

“This effort is just getting off the ground, and we’re investigating many more modifying factors in concussion, including age, sleep, symptoms, prior history of attention deficit disorder,” Zuckerman said.

“Our goal is to create new knowledge in this area and help providers better understand when a young athlete can return to play safely.”