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Sports concussion recovery is slower in girls, researchers confirm

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New research shows that concussion symptoms linger twice as long in adolescent female athletes compared to their male counterparts.

The study published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association suggests that recovery may be complicated by underlying conditions which are more prevalent in girls, including migraines, depression, anxiety and stress.

Researchers analysed the medical records of 110 male and 102 female athletes, aged 11 to 18, with first-time concussion diagnoses. The median duration of symptoms was 11 days for boys and 28 days for girls. Symptoms resolved within three weeks for 75% of boys, compared to 42% of girls.

“These findings confirm what many in sports medicine have believed for some time,” commented lead researcher Dr John Neidecker, a sports concussion specialist in Raleigh, North Carolina. “It highlights the need to take a whole person approach to managing concussions, looking beyond the injury to understand the mental and emotional impacts on recovery when symptoms persist.”

Previous research has shown that concussions exacerbate some pre-existing conditions, including headaches, depression, anxiety and stress, all of which mirror hallmark concussion symptoms, the American Osteopathic Association said.

It’s important that healthcare professionals understand the overlap of symptoms and are skilled at eliciting patient history so they can fully assess the factors that might complicate recovery.

“Often in this age range, issues like migraines, depression and anxiety have not yet been diagnosed,” Dr Neidecker explained. “So, if I ask a patient whether they have one of these conditions, they’re likely to say ‘no’. But when I ask about their experiences, I get a much clearer picture.”

Uncovering and addressing underlying conditions in this way gets patients back on the field faster and also helps them be healthier and happier in the future, Dr Neidecker concluded.