In a surprising study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy, researcher say they have discovered that altitude may have an important effect on the damage caused by concussions. Scientists studying the issue say that data indicates that games played at higher altitudes routinely see diminished concussion rates than those played at sea level.
The findings resulted from an analysis of every concussion that was reported during the most recent football season. In all, more than 300 concussions were reported by teams, giving researchers a large sample to examine. The findings revealed that overall, 64.3 concussions take place for every 10,000 times a football player suits up. However, researchers say this number is variable and changes depending on a player’s elevation.
24 of the league’s 33 stadiums are situated at elevations less than 644 feet above sea level. At the stadiums close to the ground, the concussion rate was 70 per 10,000. Among those located at higher elevations, the concussion rate dropped to 49.4 per 10,000, a remarkable difference. The nine stadiums with higher elevations include Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Charlotte, Orchard Park, NY, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Glendale, AZ and Denver.
The results in the recent NFL study confirm earlier results reported by researchers who examined more than 6,000 high school concussions. That study from 2013 found almost the exact same difference between elevation and head injuries. The earlier high school study similar drew the line at 644 feet above sea level, setting a far lower bar for “high elevation” than many typically think.
Experts say that while 644 feet may not sound very high, even relatively low elevations can still have much lower levels of oxygen than are present at sea level. This lower level of oxygen increases blood flow to the brain and leads to an increase in pressure inside the skull. Many scientists think that this increased pressure can guard against concussions by minimizing the risk of “brain slosh,” or when a player’s brain and skull move around at different rates of speed and collide with one another.
Scientists say animals like head-ramming sheep and woodpeckers naturally have tighter-fitting brains with more pressure than human brains, which allows them to withstand head injuries better than most people. Though relocating all NFL teams to the mountains may not be a practical solution to the harm caused by concussions, it does give scientists new information that might one day help lead to a cure.
Source: “ NFL concussion rates are lower at higher altitudes, study finds,” by Alan Zarembo, of at LATimes.com.
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