Girls and Concussions: UW-Madison study on protective head gear largest in the U.S.

The study is following 3,000 woman soccer players
Posted at 9:18 PM, Apr 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-27 23:26:29-04

Girl's soccer and football.  What do they have in common?  Concussions.  The biggest prevention trial in the U.S. is happening right now at UW-Madison.  But the lead researcher feels this type of research has yet to catch on in the soccer world.

This study is following 3,000 female soccer players, mostly in Wisconsin high schools. The lead researcher told us it was tough to get some coaches to participate. 

That old saying "you kick like a girl," has no place in the Valley.  This is soccer practice for the Marquette women. Assistant coach, Ashley Bares is now on the other side of the sport.  After playing for Marquette she went pro.  

"It was the goal frame that the back of my head hit," said Bares.

Her first soccer concussion was at 12-years-old. The next one happened in high school, "the whole second half I couldn't see anything, out of my left side."  

Bares said she had two more concussions while playing for Marquette, one of them bad.  "I told them I was fine."  She went back into the game. no questions asked back then.  "I really couldn't recall much of it at all and probably shouldn't have been playing," Bares told us.

Her head injuries over the years started to take a toll. "I was very prone to migraines. To the point where my vision would go, I'd be sick."  Concussions in female athletes is a topic that's now on the radar of researchers.  

In Wisconsin, numbers show concussion rates, at the high school level, for girls soccer are identical to football. When it comes to two or more concussions the rate for both sports is 20 percent.

Tim McGuine is the lead researcher on a UW-Madison study that's testing protective headgear, "we just want to know if wearing this makes a difference."  The study is looking at whether the headgear reduces the number of concussions and also the severity.

McGuine said, "as a parent, I'd want to know. This would reduce it by 10% or 20%."

Out of the 3,000 female, high school soccer players in the study so far 91 have suffered a concussion. The vast majority are not caused by a player's head hitting the ball.

"Somebody gets an elbow to the face or they lose their balance.  On the way down they hit the ground."  McGuine said head to head contact is also a big cause of concussions.

He pointed out the coaches that agreed to the study have been great.  "They want to get this done, they want to make sure their kids are safe. There just aren't as many of those as we would hope."

Some parents, like John Seem, are not waiting for results.  His 15-year-old daughter suffered a concussion playing club soccer.  

"She told me she couldn't even see.  I mean she was like everything was blurry."  

Seem researched all the protective headgear on the market and said he feels better now that she's wearing something.  "I want her to play, that's the main thing. I want her to stay on the field and play."

MU's athletic trainer for women's soccer is not surprised by the high rate of concussions.  "They're getting bigger, faster, stronger."  He says there are more females playing the game but feels the science is lagging behind.  "Let's look at, are we doing the right things for our female athletes versus our male athletes."

As a coach, Ashley is more conservative than when she was playing.  Her job now is to do what's best for her players, long-term.  

"We have to protect them, as much as us being coaches want to see them on the field."  

There have been some concerns about the headgear having a "gladiator effect."  Meaning athletes will play more aggressively and be more prone to concussions or other injuries. So far the research doesn't show that happening.  UW-Madison hopes to have results from the two-year study by early fall. 

For more information on concussions and baseline concussion testing at Children's Hospital of WI visit their website.