Performance and Return to Sport After Open Fracture in National Football League Players

Michael O. Cotton, Joseph M. Sliepka, Derek M. Klavas, Patrick C. McCulloch, Joshua D. Harris, Robert A. Jack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: Open fractures are debilitating injuries for athletes. No prior studies have investigated open fractures in National Football League (NFL) players. Purpose: To compare outcomes after open fracture in NFL players in terms of (1) time to return to sport (RTS), (2) postinjury career length and games played per season, (3) postinjury performance, and (4) postinjury performance compared with matched controls. Study Design: Retrospective comparative series; Level of evidence, 3. Methods: Publicly available records were used to identify NFL players who had sustained an open fracture between 1970 and 2018. Controls were matched to injured players by age, experience, position, and preinjury performance. RTS was defined as playing in at least 1 NFL game after open fracture. Comparisons between injured and control players were made using the paired-samples Student t test. Results: Injuries in 37 players were analyzed (age, 27.2 ± 3.6 years; experience, 4.4 ± 3.6 seasons). The 3 most common locations for open fracture were the tibia/fibula (n = 16), hand/finger (n = 12), and forearm/wrist (n = 3). A total of 30 (81%) players had a mean time of RTS of 9.3 ± 8.2 months after open fracture; of these players, 4 (13.3%) who sustained hand/finger open fracture did not undergo surgical treatment. There was no difference in postinjury career length or games played per season between control and injured players. Postinjury performance was similar to preinjury performance in injured players, and postinjury performance scores were similar between injured and control players. There were significant differences between players who sustained upper extremity and lower extremity open fractures in RTS time (4.0 ± 4.8 vs 14.6 ± 7.4 months, respectively; P =.00007) and postinjury performance (6.4 ± 4.3 vs 3.3 ± 2.1, respectively; P =.03). Conclusion: RTS after open fracture among NFL players was high. Players who sustained an open fracture had similar games played per season, career length, and performance compared with matched controls. Players who sustained an upper extremity open fracture had a faster RTS time, higher RTS rate, and improved postinjury performance compared with players who sustained a lower extremity open fracture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalOrthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2021


  • NFL
  • football
  • open fracture
  • performance
  • return to sport

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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