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Effect of anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction and meniscectomy on length of career in National Football League athletes: a case control study.

BACKGROUND: Meniscal and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries are common in college football athletes. The effect of meniscectomy and/or ACL surgery on the length of an athlete's career in the National Football League (NFL) has not been well examined.

HYPOTHESIS: Athletes with a history of meniscectomy or ACL surgery before the NFL combine have a shorter career than matched controls.

STUDY DESIGN: Case-control study; Level of evidence, 3.

METHODS: A database containing the injury history and career NFL statistics of athletes from 1987-2000 was used to match athletes with a history of meniscectomy and/or ACL surgery, and no other surgery or major injury, to controls without previous surgeries. Athletes were matched by position, year drafted, round drafted, and additional injury history.

RESULTS: Fifty-four athletes with a history of meniscectomy, 29 with a history of ACL reconstruction, and 11 with a history of both were identified and matched with controls. Isolated meniscectomy reduced the length of career in years (5.6 vs 7.0; P = .03) and games played (62 vs 85; P = .02). Isolated ACL surgery did not significantly reduce the length of career in years or games played. Comparing the athletes with meniscectomy or ACL reconstruction to athletes with combined ACL reconstruction and meniscectomy, a history of both surgeries, resulted in a shorter career in games started (7.9 vs 35.1; P <.01), games played (41 vs 63; P = .07), and years (4.0 vs 5.8; P = .08) than a history of either surgery alone.

CONCLUSION: A history of meniscectomy, but not ACL reconstruction, shortens the expected career of a professional football player. A combination of ACL reconstruction and meniscectomy may be more detrimental to an athlete's durability than either surgery alone. Further research is warranted to better understand how these injuries and surgeries affect an athlete's career and what can be done to improve the long-term outcome after treatment.

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