This study investigated metacarpal fracture occurrences, characteristics, treatments, and return-to-play times for National Football League (NFL) athletes.
NFL players who sustained metacarpal fractures during the 2012 to 2018 seasons were reviewed. All players on the 32 NFL team active rosters with metacarpal fractures recorded through the NFL Injury Database were included. Player age, time in the league, player position, injury setting, injury mechanism, fractured ray, management, and return-to-play were recorded.
There were 208 injury occurrences resulting in 1 or more metacarpal fractures, identified in 205 players. Of these, 81 (39%) injuries were operated. Return-to-play data were available for 173 (83%) injured players. The median return-to-play time for all athletes was 15 days (interquartile range, 1-55 days). Of the injured players, 130 (71%) missed time but returned the same season. Within this 130-player subset, 69 (53%) were treated nonsurgically and 61 (47%) operatively with median return-to-play times of 16 days (interquartile range, 6-30 days) and 20 days (interquartile range, 16-42 days) respectively. Eighteen individuals in this 130-player subgroup sustained a thumb metacarpal fracture. The return-to-play time was slower for patients sustaining thumb metacarpal fractures compared to other metacarpal fractures, and was significantly longer (median, 55 days) following nonsurgical treatment of thumb fractures compared with operative intervention (median, 24 days). A regression analysis revealed no trend or difference in return to football with respect to player age, time in the league, injury setting (practice vs game), injury mechanism, articular involvement, multiple concomitant injuries, or player position.
Most NFL players who sustain metacarpal fractures miss less than 3 weeks and return to play the same season. The only variables that lessen the return-to-play time are involvement of lesser digit metacarpals and operative intervention for treatment of thumb metacarpal fractures.
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