A new study on concussions for NFL players during the 2012 and 2013 season reveals that players are 30 percent less likely to sustain concussions when playing at higher altitudes. The data also suggests that helmet designs and rule changes, such as penalizing helmet-to-helmet contact, have not shown a measurable reduction of concussions
The study identified “brain slosh” as the suspected common cause of concussions, not direct impact to the head. Because the brain doesn’t fit tightly inside the skull, rapid acceleration and deceleration of the head puts the brain at risk for a slosh-induced injury. This is why higher altitudes may help protect a player. Cerebral blood flow rises at higher altitudes, causing the brain to fit tighter inside the skull, thus reducing the risk of concussion. It’s like bubble wrapping the brain.
The study concludes that the risk of sustaining a concussion is significantly less at games played in the nine NFL cities with the highest altitudes, cities that range from 644 to 5,192 feet above sea level. These cities include:
- Kansas City
The combined odds of concussion during a game in one of these cities was 30 percent less than in the 23 other cities with NFL teams.
“If we’re going to solve this problem, we have to figure out a way to protect the brain from the inside out. That’s why we think we might be on the front edge of something that could influence a paradigm shift in concussion prevention-strategies,” said Greg Myer, PhD, director of sports medicine research at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Myer was the lead author of the study.
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