Friday, November 27, 2020
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Bighorn sheep & woodpeckers provide concussion insight


We know that when football players take a blow to the head during practice or during a game, they may suffer traumatic brain injury, which is considered permanent and can lead to debilitating illness, as reported here.

However, some animals in the world take blows to the head and don’t suffer any brain damage at all. These include woodpeckers and bighorn sheep.

Something about the anatomy of a woodpecker’s brain or skull allows the bird to peck away at trees thousands of times a day and live to tell about it, which is more than can be said for many football players.

Now comes a study out of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital that seems to suggest certain conditions may cause humans to take on characteristics like those found in other animals that give the brain more of a cushion against hard blows to the head. Read …

Via press release:

According to a recent study done by doctors at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, high school athletes who play collision sports at higher altitudes are less likely to suffer from concussions than those who play at lower altitudes.

The doctors who were involved in the study recognized that prior research indicated that the volume and/or pressure of intracranial fluid, which acts as a cushion to protect the brain inside of the skull, is affected by one’s altitude and that it may be associated with the likelihood and/or severity of a concussion. They hypothesized that when adjusting to higher altitudes, physiological responses increase intracranial fluid volume and these responses would provide a “tightened fit” which should help protect the brain from concussions like bubble wrap.

Data on concussions and more than 20 million athlete exposures were gathered between 2005–2012 from nearly 500 high schools across the US. The data focused on concussion occurrence in a variety of sports including but not limited to boys’ and girls’ soccer, volleyball, basketball, cheerleading and boys’ football and ice hockey. The altitude of the participating schools ranged from 7 to 6903 feet.

When concussion rates were examined relative to altitude, sequential elevations in altitude above sea level were associated with a reduction in concussion rates overall. Specifically, high school sports played at higher altitudes demonstrated a 31 percent reduction in the incidence of total reported concussions. Further analysis showed that concussion rates at increased altitude for football players were reduced by 30 percent for overall exposures, 27 percent for competition exposures and 28 percent for practice exposures.

Dr. Greg Myer, Director of Research, Sports Medicine, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, says that “this research shows us that the physiological responses to altitude may be associated with a reduction in sports-related concussion rates, especially in collision sports.”

He goes on to say that future research that focuses on other techniques that can optimize intracranial fluid volume (via jugular compression) will play an important role in the determination of the most effective approaches to prevent sport related concussion in athletes.


I’m certainly not going to suggest we all go to Denver to play every high school football game, and I kinda think zipping open a student’s skull to inject some sort of bubble wrap isn’t going to fly with the parents.

It’s ripe for an Onion article, and I expect one to come out soon after this news makes its way around. They should quote me. Here’s my quote for the Onion article:

“Football and team sports are very important to high school students, and football is the biggest,” said Paul Katula. “This research is promising in that if a way can be found to cushion the brain within the skull simply by increasing the intracranial pressure with drugs or altitude, we might be able to save this game of skill and appreciate it for its inherent beauty.”

Get it, folks? All kidding aside, we renew our call to suspend football as a sanctioned sport in order to allow more research to be conducted and rules to be rewritten that will change the game into one that doesn’t cause permanent brain damage to our youngest citizens.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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