Alexandra Harriss is undertaking the largest and most comprehensive study assessing repetitive head injury in female adolescents, in a project that will track the incidence of head impacts in female soccer players.
While there is a growing body of evidence that concussions and other head injuries can lead to later cognitive harm, including Alzheimer’s Disease and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), most research has focused on male American football players, with little research done into how these injuries affect women or adolescents.
However, females have a higher rate of head injury compared to males, and report more severe and prolonged symptoms affecting mental and physical well-being – Alexandra, herself an accomplished soccer player, hopes her research will address this knowledge gap.
Her initial work indicates that female teenagers frequently experience head impacts during soccer games, many of them comparable to those in American football. Her project will fit a group of players with microsensors during games and practices to determine head impact magnitudes that occur from heading the ball as well as from contact with other players. Electroencephalogram tests will also measure cognitive functioning at various time points during the soccer season – the start, mid-season measures and post-season.
The research results are expected to provide important data to develop criteria to reduce the risk of brain injury that results from repeated head impacts, including ways to identify risks for specific players. Alexandra, who captained the University of Guelph varsity women’s soccer team, is a doctoral candidate at Western University in the combined MPT/PhD program.