Shedding Light on Disparities between Males and Females in the Care of Sport-Related Concussions
Sport-related concussions are not only a prevalent issue among youth athletes but also a growing concern in public health. Research has shown that female athletes are at great risk and experience a longer recovery time following a concussion.
A recent retrospective cohort study by Prosak et al. at Vanderbilt University, focusing on male and female athletes aged 14-19 years, offers critical insights into how sex may play a role in the management and care of sport-related concussions.
Understanding the disparities between male and female athletes is crucial for developing more effective concussion management strategies and ensuring equitable care for all athletes.
Understanding the Study
The study was conducted by researchers of Vanderbilt University at a regional sports concussion center. They analyzed data from 832 athletes (67% male) who sustained sport-related concussions between November 2017 and April 2022. The study aimed to compare the resource allocation between male and female sports in three key areas:
- Immediate on-field evaluation by certified athletic trainers
- Time to general healthcare presentation
- Time to going to the clinic for concussion evaluation
Key Findings: A Gender Gap in Concussion Care
The results highlighted a few disparities in how male and female athletes receive care post-concussion:
- Athletic Trainer Evaluation: Male athletes received more on-field evaluations by athletic trainers (40%) compared to female athletes (32%). This disparity is concerning, as it suggests potential gaps in immediate care and support for female athletes.
- Time to Healthcare Presentation: No significant difference was found in the average time to healthcare presentation between males and females. However, having an on-field evaluation by an athletic trainer was linked to a quicker presentation to healthcare facilities.
- Time to Clinic Presentation: There was also no significant difference between males and females in time to clinic for evaluation of their concussions.
An Important Sub-Analysis of the Study: Football Players Excluded
As I was reviewing this study, one of my first thoughts was that football could skew the results. As an athletic trainer myself, part of my job is triaging which sport to cover when multiple sports are happening at the same time. I choose to cover the sport that has the highest level of risk, and football is usually that sport. Therefore, I appreciate that the researchers of this study did a sub-analysis that excluded football players.
The sub-analysis revealed that when football athletes were excluded, there were still no significant differences between males and females in on-field evaluation by athletic trainers.
This research study underscores the vital role that athletic trainers play in early concussion evaluation and management. Their presence not only aids in immediate care but also influences the time to seek further medical attention. As this study demonstrated, those youth athletes who saw an athletic trainer were more likely to seek concussion care in a clinic in a more timely manner.
This study suggests a need for more equitable resource allocation, especially in terms of athletic trainer availability particularly for female athletes at youth sporting events. Given the significant role of athletic trainers in early concussion care, ensuring their presence across all sports – regardless of gender – is crucial.
Prosak OL, Hajdu KS, Amedy A, Anesi TJ, Williams K, Jo J, Terry DP, Zuckerman SL. Sex Differences in Resource Allocation and Access to Care After Sport-Related Concussion. J Athl Train. 2023 Dec 9. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-0280.23. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 38069828.