Effect of Playing and Training at Altitude on Concussion Incidence in Professional Football

James G. Connolly, John T. Nathanson, Stanislaw Sobotka, Syed Haider, Alex Gometz, Mark Lovell, Tanvir Choudhri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: Despite the increased attention to sports-related concussion, the literature lacks information about the environmental factors that contribute to concussion incidence. Previous investigators have noted a decreased rate of concussion in football games played at higher altitude. Purpose/Hypothesis: The purpose of this study was to investigate whether the protective effects of altitude on concussion rate, as described by previous investigators, were due to acute effects of altitude exposure or chronic adaptations to training at altitude. Our hypothesis was that these protective effects are not attributable to relative cerebral edema that occurs in conditions of altitude-associated hypobaric hypoxia, known as the “slosh effect,” but rather result from long-term adaptations to training at altitude. Study Design: Descriptive epidemiology study. Methods: Athletes from the 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 National Football League (NFL) seasons were included in this analysis of publicly available data. Concussion rates were subdivided into 4 groups: (1) low-altitude teams playing below 644 feet (low-low), (2) low-altitude teams playing above 644 feet (low-high), (3) high-altitude teams playing below 644 feet (high-low), and (4) high-altitude teams playing above 644 feet (high-high). Results: Away teams had a significantly higher rate of concussion (0.32 concussions per exposure) compared with their home team counterparts (0.27 concussions per exposure; P =.03). Teams training and playing at high altitude had a 28% decreased concussion rate, which was significantly lower compared with concussion incidence rates for overall, low-low, and high-low groups (P <.05). In comparison, teams that trained at altitude but played below 644 feet had the highest rate of concussion, at 0.36 concussions per exposure (P <.05). Conclusion: These data indicate that living and training at altitude may have a protective effect on concussion rate, as evidenced by the significant reduction in the high-high group and the lack of an effect in the low-high group. However, teams from low altitude playing at high altitude did not have a statistically significant reduction in concussion rate. These results show that the slosh theory does not completely explain the effects of altitude on concussion incidence rate in the NFL. Further analyses are needed to investigate the true cause of altitude-induced protection in the NFL.

Original languageEnglish
JournalOrthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2018


  • football (American)
  • head injuries/concussion
  • injury prevention
  • statistics


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