Study design: Retrospective epidemiologic investigation.
Objective: To investigate the relationship between altitude and concussion rate in the National Football League (NFL). Because of the physiologic responses that occur during acclimatization to altitude, it was hypothesized that games played on fields at a higher altitude would have reduced concussion rates compared to games played on fields at a lower altitude.
Background: Recent research indicates that the elevation above sea level at which football games are played may be associated with the likelihood of a concussion in high school football athletes.
Methods: Data on incident concussions and athlete exposures for the first 16 weeks of the NFL 2012 and 2013 regular seasons were obtained from publicly available web-based sources and used to calculate competition concussion rates for each NFL stadium. Concussion rates were analyzed in relation to game elevation.
Results: During the first 16 weeks of the 2012 and 2013 NFL regular seasons, 300 concussions, involving 284 players, were reported (64.3 primary cases per 10,000 game exposures). The odds of a concussion were 30% lower when playing at a higher elevation (equal to or greater than 644 ft [196.3 m] above sea level) compared to a lower elevation (odds ratio = 0.70; 95% confidence interval: 0.53, 0.94). A multivariable generalized linear model controlling for season, week, and clustering of team at home and away confirmed these results, showing that the odds of at least 1 concussion were reduced by 32% in games played at higher elevation.
Conclusion: The results of this epidemiological investigation indicate that increased altitude was associated with a reduction in the odds of a sport-related concussion in NFL athletes. The reported relationship of concussion incidence and field elevation should be further investigated, and, if verified, further work will be needed to understand why that relationship exists.
Level of evidence: Prognosis, level 2c.