SLR - December 2017 - Kyle D. Durfey

Performance and Return to Sport After Achilles Tendon Repair in National Football League Players

Reference: Robert A. Jack II, MD1, Kyle R. Sochacki, MD1, Stephanie S. Gardner, MD1, Patrick C. McCulloch, MD1, David M. Lintner, MD1, Pedro E. Cosculluela, MD1, Kevin E. Varner, MD1, and Joshua D. Harris, MD1, Performance and Return to Sport After Achilles Tendon Repair in National Football League Players. Foot & Ankle International 2017 Oct. Vol. 38 (10) 1092–1099.

Scientific Literature Review

Reviewed By: Kyle D. Durfey, DPM
Residency Program: Southern Arizona VA Health Care System, Tucson, AZ

Podiatric Relevance: Achilles tendon pathology is very common to the podiatric surgeon. This article evaluated active patients or professional athletes trying to return to their sport after surgical correction of Achilles tendon rupture. The authors had four main outcomes: (1) return-to-sport rate in National Football League (NFL) players following Achilles tendon repair, (2) postoperative career length and games per season, (3) pre- and postoperative performance and (4) postoperative performance compared with control players matched by position, age, years of experience and performance.

Methods: Level III, retrospective comparative study utilizing publicly available records to identify NFL players who underwent Achilles tendon repair. Ninety-five players (98 surgeries) were analyzed who met all inclusion criteria. Players were categorized by years in the league, position, return to sport time and follow-up for how many years they remained in the NFL postoperatively. Comparisons between case and control groups and preoperative and postoperative time points were made using paired-samples Student t tests.

Results: Seventy-one (72.4 percent) players could return to sport in the NFL at a mean of 339.8 ± 84.8 days following surgery. Thirty-one (32 percent) Achilles tendon repairs were performed during training camp or preseason. Controls (3.6 ± 2.1 years) had a significantly longer NFL career (P < .05) than players who underwent Achilles tendon repair (2.7 ± 2.1 years). There was no significant difference in games per season in subsequent seasons following surgery compared with controls. Postoperative performance scores were significantly worse (P < .05) for running backs (RBs) (n = 4) and linebackers (LBs) (n = 12) compared to preoperative scores. LBs had significantly worse postoperative performance scores when compared to matched controls (P < .05).

Conclusions: Following Achilles tendon repair, less than 75 percent of players returned to the NFL. RTS time was 339.8 days following surgery. Postoperative career length was one season shorter. Postoperative performance scores were significantly worse for RBs and LBs.  

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