Study: High school athletes have fewer concussions at higher elevations

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(Photo: MGN Online)

DENVER, Colo. — A new study being cited by the University of Colorado-Denver suggests that high school athletes playing at higher elevations — like those in Colorado — experience fewer concussions than similar athletes at lower elevations.

The study, which was first-authored by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and recently published in the “Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine,” focused on high school football, which has the highest concussion rate of all high schools sports.

The results of the study showed a 31 percent decrease in concussion rates among high school athletes playing at altitudes of 600 feet and above. During the course of the study, researchers surveyed athletes at 497 high schools from across the U.S., with altitudes ranging from 7 feet to 6,903 feet. The mean elevation of the study data was 600 feet.

Calling this study the first to ever link altitude to sports-related concussions, CU’s Dr. Dawn Comstock said “it appears that when you are at altitude, there may be a little less free space in the skull.”

“That means the brain can’t move around as much,” Comstock continued. “And this means that kids in Colorado are less likely to sustain a concussion playing sports than kids in Florida.”

Sports-related concussions are usually a result of the brain colliding with the skull following a blow to the athlete. At higher elevations, the blood vessels in the brain experience a mild swelling, Comstock said, which causes the brain to expand and eliminate the amount of free space in the skull.

That means the brain has less room to move inside the skull, Comstock said, and could explain why the brains’ of high school athletes seem to collide with their skulls at a decreased or less-harmful rate.

The next step for this study could be to look into whether the results hold true when it comes to professional sports.

“If this study is correct, we should look to replicate our findings in the National Football League,” Comstock said. “For example, if the Denver Broncos play the Chargers in San Diego or the Dolphins in Miami, they should experience more concussions than when they play here in Denver.”

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