Evaluating the relationship between altitude and concussion rate in high school sports
Altitude modulates concussion incidence
Implications for optimizing brain compliance to prevent brain injury in athletes
As the most common form of traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the United States, mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) results in a substantial public health burden, causing an estimated 75% to 90% of traumatic brain injury–related morbidity, hospitalizations, and emergency department visits each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the yearly incidence of sports- and recreation-related TBIs in the United States is between 1.6 and 3.8 million, many of which remain undiagnosed or do not result in doctor or hospital visits.
This research aimed to test the hypothesis that because of the physiologies that occur during acclimatization, including a decline in intracranial compliance (a “tighter fit”), increased altitude may be related to a reduction in concussion rates in high school athletes. The study utilized a data set of nearly 6000 concussions reported by athletic trainers from a large national sample of US high schools to evaluate altitude from nearly sea level to nearly 7000 ft. The results of this investigation indicate increased physiological responses to altitude may be associated with a reduction in sports-related concussion rates, especially in collision sports. Therefore supporting the idea that there is a link between increased altitude and a reduced concussion rate in high school athletes.
Background: Recent research indicates that the volume and/or pressure of intracranial fluid, a physiology affected by one’s altitude (ie, elevation above sea level), may be associated with the likelihood and/or severity of a concussion. The objective was to employ an epidemiological field investigation to evaluate the relationship between altitude and concussion rate in high school sports.
Hypothesis: Because of the physiologies that occur during acclimatization, including a decline in intracranial compliance (a “tighter fit”), increased altitude may be related to a reduction in concussion rates in high school athletes.
Study Design: Cohort study; Level of evidence, 3.
Methods: Data on concussions and athlete exposures (AEs) between 2005-2006 and 2011-2012 were obtained from a large national sample of high schools (National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance System [High School RIO]) and were used to calculate total, competition, and practice concussion rates for aggregated sports and for football only.
Results: Altitude of participating schools ranged from 7 to 6903 ft (median, 600 ft), and a total of 5936 concussions occurred in 20,618,915 exposures (2.88 per 10,000 AEs). When concussion rates were dichotomized by altitude using the median, elevated altitude was associated with a reduction in concussion rates overall (rate ratio [RR], 1.31; P < .001), in competition (RR, 1.31; P < .001), and in ractice (RR, 1.29; P < .001). Specifically, high school sports played at higher altitude demonstrated a 31% reduction (95% confidence interval [CI], 25%-38%) in the incidence of total reported concussions. Likewise, concussion rates at increased altitude were reduced 30% for overall exposures, 27% for competition exposures, and 28% for practice exposures in football players (P < .001).
Conclusion: The results of this epidemiological investigation indicate increased physiological responses to altitude may be associated with a reduction in sports-related concussion rates, especially in collision sports. Future research that focuses on the potential prophylactic effect of optimizing outflow impedance and thus reduction of intracranial compliance (a “tighter fit”) in humans is warranted to determine the most effective approaches to mitigate sport-related concussion, especially in football players.
David W. Smith, Gregory D. Myer, Dustin W. Currie, R. Dawn Comstock, Joseph F. Clark, and Julian E. Bailes
Altitude Modulates Concussion Incidence: Implications for Optimizing Brain Compliance to Prevent Brain Injury in Athletes
Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine November 2013 1: 2325967113511588, first published on November 8, 2013 doi:10.1177/2325967113511588