It takes female college athletes about the same amount of time to recover from a concussion as their male counterparts, a study of more than 1,000 cases shows.
Although previous studies suggested female athletes took longer to recover and missed more playing time due to sports-related concussions, this new analysis found no statistical difference.
“I think many people are concerned that, based on intrinsic biological differences, female athletes may have longer paths to recovery from concussions than their male counterparts,” said Christina L. Master, MD, a sports medicine pediatrician and Co-Director of the Minds Matter Concussion Program at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and first author of the study. “However, to better understand any potential biologically-based sex differences in concussion injury and recovery, we needed a large study like this that could better account for extrinsic factors that are not biological.”
The study examined 1,071 concussions using data collected from more than 30 colleges and service academies participating in the CARE Consortium, funded by the NCAA and the Department of Defense. It is the largest multi-center prospective study of concussion in collegiate athletes.
It found no statistical significant difference in recovery times. Female athletes had a median of 13.5 days before returning to play compared with 11.8 days for males.
Some subtle differences in sport, level
There were some differences in recovery time, with female athletes taking slightly longer to recover than males when they sustained a concussion in a contact sport, but male athletes took longer than females to recover in limited-contact sports. Although there was no difference between sexes at the Division I level, female athletes at Division II and III had a longer recover period than males in the same division.
Master said those differences may be the result of the resources that are available for different division levels and sports. For example, there may be greater athletic training and sports-medicine support at the Division I level and for contact sports, where it’s assumed concussions are more likely.
Equal access to training and care key
It is also possible that rules to limit men’s exposure to impacts in contact sports has had a mitigating effect. The fact that women took longer to recover in contact sports, but not in limited-contact sports “suggests that these differences between men and women cannot be entirely accounted for simply on the basis of biological sex,” CHOP wrote.
“This study makes a strong case for equity in access to specialized athletic training and sports medical care,” Master said. “Title IX, which mandates equal access for both women and men to resources, such as sports, including athletic training and sports medical care, may have potentially helped to close any gap that exists in outcomes between the sexes.
“In the instances where recovery times did differ between the sexes, a re-examination of resource allocation might achieve a more equitable distribution to maximize outcomes for all athletes.”