Most of the effects high altitude has on the body are well documented, but researchers from the University of Colorado School of Public Health believe they have discovered a new way altitude affects the body. They believe higher altitudes lower the risk of concussion.
The researchers found that high school athletes who play at higher altitudes tend to suffer fewer concussions than players who compete closr to sea level. Those involved in the study suggest that higher altitudes cause changes in the body which make the brain fit more tightly in the skull. With less room to bounce around in the skull, there is less chance for the types of brain movement which cause concussions or traumatic brain injuries.
HealthDay reports the team analyzed concussion statistics from athletes playing a range of sports at 497 U.S. high schools from various altitudes ranging from 7 feet to more than 6,900 feet above sea level. The average altitude was 600 feet. The team also examined football on its own, since it has the highest concussion rate of U.S. high school sports.
Concussion rates in all high school sports played at altitudes of 600 feet or more were 31 percent lower than the rates of players at lower altitudes. The rates for football were 30 percent lower, according to the findings published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine.
“We did see significant differences in concussion rates with elevation changes,” study co-author Dawn Comstock, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Colorado School of Public Health, said in a UC Denver news release. “This could mean that kids in Colorado are less likely to sustain a concussion playing sports than kids in Florida.”
While there is no clear observed reason for the decline of concussion rates at higher altitudes, the researchers put forth one hypothesis. Sports-related concussions are caused by the brain colliding against the skull when a player is hit. At higher altitudes, blood vessels in the brain mildly swell, causing the brain to fit closer to the skull. Because of this, the brain does not move as violently during an impact.
It is important to note that while the study found a connection between higher altitudes and lower concussion rates, a cause-and-effect relationship and the cause for the findings have not been established. The researchers imply they will look towards professional sports for further insight.
“If this study is correct, we should look to replicate our findings in the National Football League,” Comstock said. “For example, if the Broncos play the Chargers in San Diego or the Dolphins in Miami they should experience more concussions than when they play here in Denver.”