High school girls in Michigan reported head injuries roughly twice as often as boys among those who played the same sports during the 2015-16 school year, according to the first-year findings of the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s concussion initiative.
Beginning in 2015-16, the MHSAA required all high schools to report head injuries that student-athletes suffered during practices or games via an online reporting system. According to the findings released earlier this month, student-athletes suffered a total of 4,452 concussions across all sports during the 2015-16 school year, a majority of which (2,973, or 67 percent) occurred during in competition rather than practice.
Leading the way, unsurprisingly, was 11-player football, with 49 head injuries per 1,000 participants. Behind 11-player football were ice hockey (38 per 1,000), 8-player football (34), girls’ soccer (30) and girls’ basketball (29). Wrestling had the fourth-highest head-injury rate per 1,000 participants (26), while competitive cheer came in third for girls (17).
The biggest surprise from the findings was the discrepancy between head-injury reporting among girls and boys in the same sports. Female soccer players, for instance, reported 30 head injuries per 1,000 participants, while male soccer players reported 18 per 1,000. A similar discrepancy held true for basketball, as girls reported 29 head injuries per 1,000 participants, while boys reported 11. Girls who played softball reported 11 per 1,000 participants; boys who played baseball reported four per 1,000.
“Experts tell us that it’s not surprising that girls report more head injuries than boys. But we found it stunning how many more head injuries were reported for girls than boys,” said Jack Roberts, the executive director of the MHSAA, in a statement. “As we delve deeper into the data, we hope to identify what physiological, social and psychological factors may contribute to this disparity—and how we can better prepare school personnel and especially coaches to watch for over- or under-reporting.”
Dr. Jeffery Kutcher gave one possible explanation for the disparity to Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press.
“We do think there are multiple reasons for that,” Kutcher said. “One of them is likely to be neck strength. There may be others that have to do with style of play and nature of the game and those types of issues.”
Overall, boys reported more than twice as many head injuries as girls—3,003 to 1,449—but there were also far more boys playing sports (nearly 165,000) than girls (slightly less than 120,000). Across genders, 54 percent of reported head injuries occurred at the varsity level, and nearly 56 percent were caused by player-to-player contact. Fewer than one-fifth of the student-athletes who suffered concussions did not receive medical clearance to return before the end of their respective sport’s season.
The Michigan association is continuing to collect head-injury data throughout the 2016-17 school year, with the goal of using that information to compare year-by-year results and discover trends in head-injury reporting. Those trends “will demand action to further promote the welfare of participants in school-sponsored sports,” Roberts wrote in a blog post accompanying the release of the first-year results.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.