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It's been known for some time that women sustain more concussions than men in football. While some scientists have claimed that this is due to women having naturally weak neck muscles, new research shows the problem may be due to a lack of vision training.
Joe Clark, a professor of neurology at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, led a study looking into this very issue. Clark and his colleagues looked at hundreds of photographs of both female and male players hitting the ball with their heads. Researchers were interested in seeing how frequently females and males shut their eyes when heading a ball and then comparing these stats to rates of concussions.
After taking hundreds of pictures, researchers ran all of the images through a digital analysis program. Out of the 170 females photographed doing headers, a staggering 90.6 percent closed their eyes. By contrast, only 79 percent of the 170 males photographed closed their eyes.
From his research, Clark believes a major reason why females are experiencing higher concussion rates in contact sports than males is due to a lack of eye discipline.
Male athletes are often taught to suppress the urge to blink when they perceive a threat. Not only has eye discipline been shown to reduce concussion risk, it has also been shown to help players have greater ball handling skills.
Vision training programs have already been used in the past with other sports to great effect. Athletes that practice eye discipline have been shown to significantly reduce their risk of concussions, and Clark believes that coaching programs should start emphasizing eye discipline and vision training in female athletes.
One medical assistant on Clark's team, Hagar Elgendy, told reporters she was proud to present this data to the public. Elgendy hopes this research will lead to serious changes in how the medical and sporting communities think about concussions.
In addition to his research, Clark also works with both high school and college athletes on eye discipline techniques. Clark is a firm believer that every athlete can learn proper vision training techniques with patience and practice.
Clark hopes this study will lead more contact sports instructors to make teaching good eye discipline a key component in their training regimen. He also wants to do more studies on the correlation between concussion rates and poor eye discipline in the future.
Clark's study was published in a recent issue of Medical Hypotheses under the title "Lack of eye discipline during headers in high school girls soccer: A possible mechanism for increased concussion rates." (The sport is referred to as soccer across the pond.)
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