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21 Mar 2024

A wake-up call: new concussion research based on female athletes

A wake-up call: new concussion research based on female athletes

A recent BBC Sport article recounts Kat Merchant's emotion-filled retirement from women's rugby after experiencing numerous concussions throughout her career. It brings light to the lack of research into concussions in women's sports, despite growing awareness of the issue in rugby and football.  

In the article, Merchant describes the debilitating symptoms she faced after her concussions, including confusion, sensitivity to light and noise, and a fencing response. Studies suggest that men and women may experience different symptoms after concussions, with women potentially being more at risk depending on their menstrual cycle phase. 

World Rugby has taken steps to address the issue, funding equal research for both men and women and introducing smart mouthguards to monitor head impacts during gameplay. These new mouthguards use an innovative saliva test that helps to indicate brain function markers following an impact injury to the head. Similarly, FIFA is funding research on the impact of heading the ball on women's brain health, recognizing the need for tailored approaches due to physiological differences. 

There remains a crucial emphasis on the importance of understanding and addressing concussions in women's sports, with researchers exploring gender-specific biomechanics and recovery patterns.  

 Merchant, now retired, still feels the effects of her concussions and advocates for increased education and awareness to protect players while maintaining the integrity of contact sports. 

Overall, the article highlights the need for continued research and awareness efforts to ensure the safety and well-being of female athletes in contact sports like rugby and football. 

Read the full article here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/68251042  

In the newly released ‘Concussion and Brain Health Position Statement 2024’ from the Australian Government and Sports Commission in February, there is a recognition of the worsened long-term outcomes following female concussion injuries and how the lack of epidemiological research into this has come to light through the growing popularity of women’s contact sports.  

Again, it also highlights emerging evidence into linking progesterone levels and menstrual cycle phases to increased concussion risks and outcomes.  

You can read the full report here: https://www.concussioninsport.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/1133545/37382_Concussion-and-Brain-Health-Position-Statement-2024-FA.pdf  

To conclude, it seems that further action must be taken by sports governing bodies to recognise the abundance of evidence outlining differences in impact between male and females contact sports professionals and develop more individualised protocols for these.  

Despite large organisations such as The FA, World Rugby, and England Football now following the April 2023 updated Concussion Guidelines for Grassroots Sport, more attention must be paid to female athletes and the differences in assessment, treatment and recovery that come with these. 

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