Higher altitudes result in reduced concussion rates in high school related sports

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According to a recent study conducted at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, USA, high-school athletes who play collision sports at higher altitudes are less likely to suffer from concussions than those who play at lower altitudes.

The physicians who were involved in the study recognised that prior research indicated that the volume and/or pressure of intracranial fluid, which acts as a cushion to protect the brain inside of the skull, is affected by altitude and that it may be associated with the likelihood and/or severity of a concussion.

They hypothesised that when adjusting to higher altitudes, physiological responses increase intracranial fluid volume and these responses would provide a “tightened fit” which should help protect the brain from concussions like bubble wrap.

Data on concussions and athlete exposures were gathered between from nearly 500 high schools across the USA from 2005–2012. The data focused on concussion occurrence in a variety of sports including but not limited to boys’ and girls’ soccer, volleyball, basketball, cheerleading and boys’ football and ice hockey. The altitude of the participating schools ranged from seven to 6,903 feet.

When concussion rates were examined relative to altitude, sequential elevations in altitude above sea level was associated with a reduction in concussion rates overall. Specifically, high-school sports played at higher altitudes demonstrated a 31% reduction in the incidence of total reported concussions. Further analysis showed that concussion rates at increased altitude for football players were reduced by 30% for overall exposures, 27% for competition exposures and 28% for practice exposures.

Greg Myer, director of Research, Sports Medicine, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, says that “This research shows us that the physiological responses to altitude may be associated with a reduction in sports-related concussion rates, especially in collision sports.”

He goes on to say that future research that focuses on other techniques that can optimise intracranial fluid volume (via jugular compression) will play an important role in the determination of the most effective approaches to prevent sport-related concussion in athletes.

Other institutions collaborating on the study include: North Shore University Health Systems Division of Neurosurgery, Evanston; University of Cincinnati Departments of Pediatrics, Orthopaedic Surgery and Neurology, College of Medicine, Cincinnati; The Micheli Center for Sports Injury Prevention, Waltham; and The Colorado School of Public Health, Department of Epidemiology, University of Colorado, Aurora (all USA).

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