While recent research has shed a great deal of light onto the mechanisms underlying concussions, there are still many myths and misconceptions surrounding the common brain injuries. A new study set out to dispel one such misleading claim that playing sports at higher altitudes reduces athletes’ risk of concussions.
As the findings published this month in JAMA Neurology show, there is no relation between altitude and concussion rates in athletes.
“Further research on this issue will simply divert resources from more clinically effective research aimed at identifying modifiable risk factors for concussion, developing scientifically sound technologies that improve athlete safety, and improving acute and long-term management of sports-related head injuries,” the authors, Gerald S. Zavorsky, PhD, Department of Respiratory Therapy, Georgia State University, Atlanta, and James M. Smoliga, PhD, Department of Physical Therapy, High Point University, North Carolina, conclude.
The team of researchers conducted a systematic review of past studies and literature on this issue using the US National Library of Medicine database. Specifically, the authors pinpointed three studies they believed were most relevant to the topic.
The studies specifically looked at concussions in football and other sports between 2005 and 2014 at different levels of play.
One study focused on Division 1 football concussion injuries recorded in the National Collegiate Athletics Association Injury Surveillance Program from 2009 to 2014. The second, reviewed concussion rates among NFL players from 2012 and 2013, using data collected from each team’s official website and the PBS Frontline Concussion Watch system. The last study included expanded the focus to nine high school sports between 2005 and 2012 by evaluating data from the National High School Sports Related Injury Surveillance System.
From these studies, the researchers were able to review almost 5 million data points, which showed that the number of brain injuries per game at sea level ranged between 0.07% and 0.45%. In comparison, the rate for athletes at higher altitudes ranged between 0.06% and 0.50%, showing no difference between the risks at differing altitudes.
The authors say the findings show “that there is no clinically relevant association between altitude and concussion risk.” They take this discovery even further saying “even if altitude protected athletes from concussion, altitude is not a factor that can be readily altered and is of little value from a public health standpoint.”
The researchers also discourage athletics programs from investing in dubious athletic equipment claiming to replicate the effects of altitude because they lack scientific backing.
“As such, we firmly believe epidemiologic data are already sufficient to indicate that this is an issue that should not be examined further.”