Women’s gymnastics leads NCAA sports in preseason concussions

Female athletes are underrepresented in concussion research.


Women’s gymnastics has the highest preseason concussion rate of any NCAA sport, with concussions occurring at a rate 50% greater than football players. 

Concussion rates dropped all over the regular season, with female gymnasts suffering concussions at half the rate of preseason levels.

According to leading researcher Steven Broglio, professor of kinesiology and director of the University of Michigan Concussion Center, the sport hasn’t previously been considered a high concussion risk like football or soccer.

From 2013-14 to 2018-19, the study looked at sport-related concussion rates for NCAA sports during the preseason practice period and regular season.

According to a new study, around nine gymnasts for every 10,000 athletes participating experienced a concussion during the preseason.

Broglio from the University of Michigan said, “Everybody worries about football, ice hockey, and men’s and women’s soccer, but gymnastics is out there by themselves with a preseason injury risk that we didn’t expect to see. We’re not aware of anybody who has identified this problem before. Hence, we now need to look at how to improve the health and safety of the athletes.”

The preseason sessions are mainly for practice, whereas the regular season involves training and competition. Broglio said he needs to learn more about gymnastics to guess what activity or activities caused the preseason surge. However, he emphasized that instructors are careful.

In comparison, around six football players out of every 10,000 athletes participating suffered a concussion during the preseason. The preseason sessions are solely for practice, whereas the regular season involves practice and competition. Broglio recently co-wrote a research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that looked at three major position and consensus articles that guide clinical therapy for sports-related concussions.

The 171 research listed by these three journals included around 80% male study participants, with 40% having no female participants. Broglio anticipated that the study would shed light on the gaps in the literature and encourage individuals to dig deeper to understand what’s going on to improve outcomes.

He said, “There is a lack of science in the broader literature around women’s sports. We’re hoping research like this shines a light on the deficits in the literature and allows people to take a deeper dive to understand what’s going on to improve outcomes.”

As expected, gymnastics, football, men’s lacrosse, women’s volleyball, women’s basketball, and women’s soccer were the top sports for concussions during the preseason. Women’s and men’s ice hockey, men’s wrestling, women’s soccer, men’s football, and women’s field hockey were the top sports for concussions during the regular season.

The conclusion shows that female athletes are under-represented in concussion studies; thus, it is vital to recruit and fund gender-diverse participants, reflect varied perspectives, and identify situations where data under-represents non-male athletes.

Journal Reference:

  1. Emily Ruth Jones, Lily Mc Swope, et al. Under-representation of female athletes in research informing influential concussion consensus and position statements: an evidence review and synthesis. British Journal of Sports Medicine. DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2021-105045
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