Prevalence of Concussions in Women’s Hockey
When we discuss concussions, the topic tends to emphasize NFL, NHL and other male-dominated sports. However, a 2015 NCAA survey showed women’s hockey players reported more concussions than male football players. Since checking is not permitted in women’s hockey leagues, one would assume that concussions would be less prevalent. Since statistics show that this is not the case and women are reporting more concussions in hockey compared to men’s hockey, football and wrestling, it is important to understand why. There are three main theories as to why women are reporting more concussions than their male counterparts.
Women report more symptoms because women are more inclined to disclose health issues in general
Some researchers believe that women are more knowledgeable with symptoms and understand changes and differences within their body better than men. There is also a cultural diversity between men and women that may prevent men from disclosing concussion symptoms. While social stigmas support men to be tough and “shake off” any injury and continue playing, the opposite is reflected on women. Women are stereotyped to talk about feelings. Some believe that men and women are not necessarily experiencing a significant difference in sustained concussions, yet women are more inclined to report that they have suffered from one.
Women on average have less neck muscles to help protect from a whiplash effect
Physiological differences between men and women have also been of interest within this topic. Some researchers have looked into whether the strength in women’s necks has a direct relationship to the heightened number of concussions in women’s hockey.
When an individual is about to get hit, the natural instinct is to become tense. This is an unconscious effort to protect the head from excessive movement. A stronger neck will create a stiffer neck, which can potentially reduce the risk for concussion. Those who do not have the neck muscles to produce this amount of tension before being hit are at greater risk. However, this theory is only beneficial when the athlete is anticipating the hit. In many cases of concussions, the individual is not expecting body contact and their neck was not stiffened. In this case, having stronger neck muscles would not likely lower your chances of concussions.
Since physical contact is not permitted in women’s hockey, the unexpected hits are more dangerous than if they were anticipated
Many people assume that since checking is not permitted in women’s hockey, that it doesn’t happen. This assumption is very inaccurate. Although checking and big hits do not happen as often in the women’s games in comparison to men’s hockey, they do happen frequently. A 2007 study on NCAA women’s hockey found that approximately 50% of all game injuries were reported to result from contact with another player, despite the rule against body checking
Though the restriction of body contact is in place to reduce injury, the paradox is that there is evidence to suggest that the prevalence of concussions are higher due to unanticipated hits. Female Olympic hockey players, who have played in leagues that permit body contact, have suggested that athletes must play the game with their “head on a swivel”. They must always be anticipating a hit and this appears to protect the body better. There is also time spent in practices, dedicated to receiving hits. For the women, they don’t receive such training and are not likely anticipating hits that shouldn’t be happening.
Where do we go from here?
As of today, there is no conclusive evidence to support why women report higher concussion rates in comparison to men. What we do know is that the prevalence is high. Until science catches up and we understand the actual reasoning behind this, we can begin to make small changes. In the same 2007 NCAA women’s hockey study, researchers found that out of 57 concussions caused by body contact, penalties were only issued 18 times. There needs to be consistency in regulations. However, it doesn’t seem that will be enough. It is unrealistic to expect that in such a fast paced game there will be no body contact. Women need to be taught how to anticipate and receive a hit. Although it is not supposed to be an element in their game, it clearly is and must be approached.
To learn more about the prevalence of concussions in women’s hockey, click on the research links below.
Collegiate Women’s Ice Hockey Injuries (2007)
7-year study of Men’s and Women’s injuries in NCAA sports