Observational research has linked altitude to concussion risk, but the physiologic and epidemiologic bases for this association remain questionable.
We performed a retrospective cohort study by analyzing four seasons of National Football League data from a widely used database (Concussion Watch) to determine if previous claims that altitude ≥196 m reduced concussion risk were replicable and whether an arbitrary predictor variable (animal vs. non-animal team logo) was related to concussion risk. Relative risk (RR) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CIs) were computed.
The previous association with altitude was reproduced for earlier seasons, but not replicable for recent seasons (RR = 0.92 [95% CI = 0.70, 1.22]). Across four combined seasons, “higher altitude” (RR = 0.78 [0.64, 0.96]) and animal logo (RR = 0.75 [0.63, 0.89]) were similarly associated with reduced concussion risk.
Inconsistent epidemiologic effects, combined with weak physiologic rationale, suggest links between altitude and concussion are coincidental. Interdisciplinary critique of concussion research is necessary to ensure that marketing claims and clinical recommendations are scientifically justified.
See video abstract at, http://links.lww.com/EDE/B234.