Concussions prevalent among middle school girls in soccer

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — More than half the concussions in a new study on middle school-aged girls soccer players occurred as a result of a head on collision.

The study, which was published in JAMA Pediatrics medical journal, evaluated the frequency and duration of concussions in female youth soccer players.

Of the 351 players surveyed in the study, 59 concussions were reported. The study revealed the symptoms persisted for an average of 9.4 days.

But perhaps what’s most alarming about the results is the high percentage of concussions caused by heading the ball, which is a normal part of play within the game of soccer.

For Rosemary Gillespy’s daughter, Elizabeth, concussions are a danger with which she’s all too familiar.

She sustained a concussion last year.

“[Elizabeth] went up for a header and her head hit another player on the opposing team’s head and was down,” Rosemary Gillespy said. “I thought, ‘Oh,  she’ll be fine, she’ll be fine. Because she actually went down, said she was fine, wanted to stay in the game. Coach pulled her off.”

Elizabeth spent the next nine days sleeping between 14 to 16 hours a day.

“Everything went black after that,” Elizabeth said of the moments immediately after the collision.

Doctors told the Gillespys that prolonged sleep was supposed to happen. They said Elizabeth’s brain needed to have complete rest.

“All she wanted to do was sleep,” Rosemary said. “[Elizabeth] stayed in a dark room. No music, no television, no phone, but she didn’t want any of that.”

UAB Sports Medicine Director Drew Ferguson says the concept of the brain needing complete rest is a message he’s trying to get across to anyone participating in youth sports – players and coaches.

Ferguson says because it’s a state law, coaches have to take a course each year to show them the signs and symptoms of a concussion.

“The parents also need to have that course, they have to sign a consent form to say that they understand the risk involved and that their child is subject to that risk and what the signs and symptoms are of a concussion,” Ferguson said.

Even though all 50 states have laws requiring a doctor’s clearance before a concussed athlete can return to play, the study found many middle school girls were playing with concussions symptoms.

And that can be even more dangerous for young soccer players.

“One particular thing that stood out in this study was the fact that close to 30 percent of those concussions were diagnosed and treated were from heading the ball,” Ferguson said.

That fact is alarming because of how essential heading the ball is to the game of soccer.

For middle school-aged girls who are still growing and developing, that’s a concern.

“I think there is a direct correlation between their neck strength and neck girth and their body control to that injury rate as compared to an older, mature athlete,” Ferguson said.

No matter the age, though, youth who learn proper technique in any sport have a better chance of preventing injury.

“[Elizabeth] is a little scared every time she goes up for a header,” said Rosemary, “but I would say she’s more cautious, but she’s still gonna go for those headers.”

As the study shows, for more and more middle school girls who play soccer, that is especially true.

To find out more about the House bill from 2011 that led to the state law requiring coaches to take a course on concussion signs and more, click here.

Copyright 2014 WIAT-TV CBS42

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