Girls take longer to heal from brain injuries, new study shows

Girls are different than boys when it comes to concussions. And that means they should be sidelined longer after a head injury. And if they don’t know it, they could do more long-term damage.

Females are rivaling males in numbers on the field playing soccer, softball and field hockey. On the ice competitive skating or hockey and on the court jumping in to play basketball. That makes them equally susceptible to injuries like concussions.

Dr. Cynthia LaBella, Lurie Children’s sports medicine physician: “The important thing to remember is that both girls and boys get concussions. This is not something unique to boys’ sports.”

But according to a recent study by the American Osteopathic Association, girls are unique in the way they recover from concussions. Symptoms last twice as long as their male counterparts. But the recovery time only differs after puberty when stress and hormone levels are higher for girls.

Dr LaBella: “Anxiety levels and prevalence of mood disorders are pretty similar between boys and girls before puberty, but once puberty hits we start to see the rates of anxiety and depression go up a little bit in girls compared to boys. So there’s a little more of that going on in teenage girls compared to teenage boys.”

And that hinders concussion recovery. For boys it’s about 11 days. For girls up to 28!

Dr. LaBella: “Somebody who has underlying anxiety for instance or a depressed mood, when they get a concussion that tends to worsen those underlying symptoms, and so it can all mix together, which can be challenging.”

Lurie Children’s sports medicine doctor Cynthia LaBella says it can become a vicious cycle. stress enhances concussions which for girls trying to do it all, causes more stress.

Dr. LaBella: “They tend to be very stressed when they get a concussion because their brain is injured and it can’t do all those tasks they used to be able to squeeze in all in one day and they need more breaks and that can be very stressful for someone who kind of prides themselves on being able to get a whole lot done in one day and achieve a lot at a high level.”

But the truth is, girls’ honesty and openness may also contribute to study findings of longer concussion battles.

Dr LaBella: “Girls are a little more likely to report their symptoms than boys. So it may be that they are more vocal and more expressive about what they are feeling and what their symptoms are than boys are. So we may be hearing about it for a longer time, whereas boys kind of think they are all the way better and maybe they are not.”

Recovery time is critical. But the fear of concussions and brain damage paralyzes some parents. But doctors say sports are an important part of life.

Dr LaBella: “The bigger threat to our kids is physical inactivity, and my fear is that all this attention to CTE and concussion and long-term problems may steer parents to pulling their kids out of sports.”

But even kids who don’t play sports get concussions – 40% of cases are just accidents like falls.