Concussions often overlooked problem in girls’ sports

Sep 18, 2012, 6:57 AM | Updated: 6:57 am

TUCSON, Ariz. — Corina Gallardo was a straight-A student through junior high. But by her freshman year, she couldn’t focus for long and her grades suffered.

“I was always tired, I was always sleeping and I had headaches,” she said. “And every time I ate, I would vomit.”

The school nurse added up the symptoms and told Gallardo’s mom to get her daughter checked for a traumatic brain injury.

A foot to Gallardo’s face during a cheerleading stunt months earlier had left her with a concussion.

Concussions are most common in high school football, but girls’ sports carry risks as well: headers in soccer, elbows on the basketball or volleyball court, girls colliding in lacrosse or softball.

According to several Arizona doctors, concussions in girls’ sports are often overlooked.

“Girls are less identified. They don’t complain as much,” said Dr. Sydney Rice, a developmental behavioral pediatrician who focuses on brain injury.

“A misconception is that boys can be tougher, but the symptoms are the same in girls,” said Dr. Dan Mullen, a Mesa surgeon specializing in sports medicine. “It’s important not to discount a girl’s symptoms as a lack of toughness just because she’s a girl.”

When Gallardo got hurt in 2008, her eyes were swollen shut.

“I would bump into the walls,” she remembered.

Three doctors suggested treatments ranging from allergy shots to thyroid medication, according to Gallardo’s mom, Brenda. At one point, Gallardo’s parents tested her for illegal drug use.

“I’d be walking down the school hallway and totally blank on how I got to school,” she said. “I’d have to call my mom to find out where I was supposed to be.”

In the meantime, Gallardo was suffering mood swings and frustration from not being able to comprehend and memorize like she was used to. She also lost her sense of smell.

“The diagnosis was a relief because we just didn’t know what was going on,” Brenda Gallardo said. “They even thought she was bulimic because she was throwing up, so we went to a dietician.”

Because Gallardo continued to cheer in the months before she got a concussion diagnosis, she likely experienced what is called second-impact syndrome.

This is the biggest long-term danger, according to Rice.

“Look at the sport and look at risks. If she is injured, have a low threshold for pulling her out,” Rice said. “Missing a few games might allow her to heal and have a normal life. The risks of not stopping are great.”

To avoid second-impact syndrome, Rice gives parents and patients a list of sports divided into three columns: red for collision sports that should be avoided, such as field hockey, martial arts and soccer; yellow for maybes such as gymnastics, volleyball and bicycling; and green for safe activities such as archery, running, swimming and golf.

“Dedicated athletes don’t want to let the team down,” Rice added. “They feel they should gut it out. And that’s exactly the opposite of what we want to teach them.”

With last year’s passage of SB 1521, Arizona coaches in most youth sports must take a concussion class. The requirement has already helped, according to Mullen, the Mesa surgeon.

“All of the coaches now speak the language that used to be reserved for team doctors and athletic trainers,” said Mullen, who sees at least one new concussion patient a week. “There’s less of that bravado, suck-it-up mentality and there’s a more caring environment.”

Four years after her concussion, Gallardo is a freshman at the University of Arizona, studying journalism and psychology.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be back to where I was,” she said. “I still get headaches and have a hard time remembering. But it’s a lot better.”

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

(Top Gun: Maverick Photo; The Fabelmans Photo)...

Valley Harkins Theatres to show best picture nominees in March

From March 3-12, the Harkins Best Picture Film Fest will give Valley movie-goers chances to see the 10 films up for best picture.
9 hours ago
(Pexels Photo)...

Scottsdale says it saved more than 38 million gallons of water in 2022

Scottsdale said it saved more than 38 million gallons of water in 2022 after focusing on conservation due to worsening drought conditions.
9 hours ago
(Pexels Photo)...

Phoenix shooting leaves man dead, person at scene detained

Officers responded to the area of 12th Street and Highland Avenue just before 6:30 p.m. to calls of a shooting.
1 day ago
(Twitter Photo/@RubenGallego)...
Associated Press

Arizona Democrat Ruben Gallego holds 1st public events of Senate campaign

Democrat Ruben Gallego held the first public events of his U.S. Senate campaign Saturday, taking aim at independent incumbent Kyrsten Sinema.
1 day ago
(File Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)...

Glendale offering summer lifeguards $25 per hour amid shortage

The city of Glendale is looking to make a splash this summer by offering $25 per hour to lifeguards amid a shortage.
1 day ago
(Yolanda Bejarano Photo)...
Alex Weiner

Arizona Democrats elect Yolanda Bejarano as next party chair

Arizona Democratic Party State Committee members elected Yolanda Bejarano as their next party chair on Saturday.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Company looking for oldest air conditioner and wants to reward homeowner with new one

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.
(Desert Institute for Spine Care photo)...

Why DISC is world renowned for back and neck pain treatments

Fifty percent of Americans and 90% of people at least 50 years old have some level of degenerative disc disease.
(Photo via MLB's Arizona Fall League / Twitter)...
Arizona Fall League

Top prospects to watch at this year’s Arizona Fall League

One of the most exciting elements of the MLB offseason is the Arizona Fall League, which began its 30th season Monday.
Concussions often overlooked problem in girls’ sports