Roller derby jammer, Sarah, suffered two concussions in a week while playing the sport. She told The Feed that those concussions have greatly altered her life.
Every afternoon Sarah McCarthy’s post-concussive symptoms flare up.
“It's fatigue, migraines, confusion, forgetfulness, sometimes emotional dysregulation as well,” she said.
“I definitely don't handle stress like I used to be able to. And if I'm having a really bad day, I'm sensitive to light and sound and everything really.”
The 32-year-old was concussed twice in one week while playing the position of ‘jammer’ in the fast and furious game of roller derby.
“I dropped my shoulder into the gap between two blockers. And at the same time, another player lifted her head to turn around and my chin connected with her helmet and I just dropped,” she told The Feed.
It wasn’t until a few days after the hit that her world and health fell apart. Sarah said she had been sitting at work and had an overwhelming feeling like she’d been “hit by a truck.”
“I had ringing in my ears. I had tingling in my fingers. I was nauseous. I was confused. It just came out of nowhere.”
Doctors told Sarah that over time her symptoms would improve and she’d get better, but she never did.
Four years later, she still has daily symptoms of fatigue and pain and is not only sidelined from the sport she loves but has been forced to work part-time for the first time in her life.
“I tried to push through but most days after work..., I would just come home and lay in bed, turn off the lights and just cry,” she told The Feed.
Female sport in Australia is bigger than ever with unprecedented growth in sports including rugby union, rugby league, cricket and Australian rules football.
Just this weekend, Adelaide Crows AFLW skipper Chelsea Randall was taken off the field part-way through the game after a collision.
Meanwhile, more evidence and research is starting to show women could be more at risk of concussion and can take longer to recover.
“Whether it's hormonal, whether it's genetic, whether it's the sport they're playing, whether it's the lack of strengthening exercises for the neck compared to their male colleagues, they're at greater risk,” said Sports Doctor, Adrian Cohen.
In its fifth season, the AFL women’s competition has the same recovery times and concussion protocols as the men’s competition.
Dr Cohen believes women have been left out of the “concussion discussion”.
“We differentiate between kids playing sport and adults, they play for shorter periods of time. Women playing sport are different from men playing sport for a whole lot of reasons. And it's time that we actually owned up to that fact and gave them more time to recover,” he said.
With more and more male footballers, who played in the 1980s and 1990s, coming forward to reveal the devastating, long term impacts concussion has had on them, there’s concern for today’s female players.
Dr Cohen said at the elite level of men’s AFL, there are often up to three trainers, a coach, physiotherapist and doctor on-field.
“We don't have them at the women's games,” he told The Feed.
“I've no doubt that we'll see the same sorts of problems suffered by ex- sportswomen that we've seen in our men.”
Sarah is now left wondering whether her symptoms will ever go away.
“I think that I'm changed forever. Whether that means my symptoms change and are easier to manage perhaps but I think it’s been long enough now that this is something that I just have to get accustomed to.”