PORTLAND, Maine (News Center) - Across the country football leads the pack in youth and high school concussions, but a less-suspecting sport is starting to make headlines for the risks it poses to female athletes. Medical studies show that soccer is the second leading cause of concussions for girls, with female players experiencing twice as many concussions as boys. Experts say parents' vigilance is key to head off the risk of concussions for their kids.
The soccer bug bit Julianna Harwood at a very young age.
Countless hours of practice over the years has paid off for the 16-year old. She is the starting goalie of the Waynflete High School Varsity soccer team. The Flyers went on to win the Class C state soccer championship. But Juliana's season got off to a rough start.
Juliana was diving for the ball trying to get it away from a player from the opposing team during a pre-season game, when she got kicked in the head.
"The next thing I remember was really really severe pain and trying to stand up and keep my eyes open, the pain was definitely the most," said Harwood.
Football leads the country when it comes to concussions among young athletes, but according to the American Journal of Sports medicine, the number of girls suffering concussions in soccer accounts for the second largest amount of all concussions reported by young athletes. Studies also show that female soccer players are reporting nearly twice as many concussions as boys in the sport they both play.
"Girls' soccer is one of the more prominent sports we see concussions in around here,' said Dr. John Hatzenbeuhler, is the Associate Director of Sports Medicine at Maine Medical Center.
Dr. Hatzenbeuhler says a concussion is caused by a blow that forces the head to move violently and the brain to shake inside the skull. Symptoms include dizziness, headache, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, blurry vision and light sensitivity. A small percentage will lose consciousness. He says 80 percent of young athletes will recover within ten days, but for others will take a lot longer for their symptoms to disappear.
"A girl or a young boy could get a concussion and the symptoms could last two months, three months, four months and certain they would be in the category of post concussion syndrome. Whereas other players could get a concussion and be better in a week," said Dr. Hatzenbuehler.
Experts say having one concussion puts you at a significantly higher risk for future concussions. Studies have also found that female soccer players reported more symptoms after suffering a concussion than male players and take longer to heal than boys.
Like Julianna, 16-year old Ella Millard spent a good part of her childhood playing soccer. But now she can only cheer her former Waynflete teammates from the sidelines.
After suffering five concussions over the space of a couple of years, Ella had to stop playing the sport she loves. Three of those injuries happened while playing soccer, one happened during a basketball game and another was not sports related.
"As I got more and more, they got worse, so that was pretty scary and the recovery time took longer," said Millard.
Doctors say both physical and cognitive rest is needed until the symptoms clear. Ella suffered from bad headaches, dizziness and light sensitivity. For Ella that meant staying in her dark room for days with no computers, cell phones, TV or even books.
Fortunately, Ella didn't end up with any long term symptoms. She can compete in cross-country and field hockey, which have a much lower risk of head injuries.
Julianna, meanwhile, returned to play after her headache symptoms
disappeared. But she says resting for three weeks was tough because she didn't want to let her team down. But thanks to awareness about the dangers of playing after a concussion, she knows she made the right decision.
"I kind of told myself, it is a couple of games now or like forever," said Julianna.
Maine is one of nearly forty states that have passed law to protect students from concussion injuries.But some experts say the new mandatory policies still don't go far enough in preventing head injuries.
To learn more about concussions symptoms you can go to www.cdc.gov/concussions