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Association of Injury Rates Among Players in the National Football League With Playoff Qualification, Travel Distance, Game Timing, and the Addition of Another Game: Data From the 2017 to 2022 Seasons.

BACKGROUND: Injury incidence is higher in the National Football League (NFL) than in other collision sports. Although previous research has identified that scheduling variations, including overseas games and bye week timing, does not affect concussion risk, data are currently lacking regarding the effects of scheduling variation on season-long musculoskeletal injury incidence.

PURPOSE: To determine whether higher cumulative travel distance, overseas play, an early season bye week, and an expansion of the regular season is associated with higher injury rates in the NFL.

STUDY DESIGN: Descriptive epidemiology study.

METHODS: All 1275 injuries across 5 NFL seasons from 2017 to 2018 through 2021 to 2022 were reviewed retrospectively. Injury data and travel distances were extracted from publicly available sources, which were cross-referenced for validation. Injury rates were calculated per 1000 athletic-exposures (AEs). Cumulative team travel distances were compared statistically using a linear regression. Single factor analysis of variance was used to compare categorical variables.

RESULTS: Travel distance did not significantly predict injury rates ( P = .47), and there was no difference in injury rates between teams that played a game overseas versus teams that did not (19.3 injuries per 1000 AEs for both; P = .96). In addition, no difference was found in injury rates ( F [109,2100[ = 0.704; P = .73) or players placed on the injured reserve list ( F [99,778] = 1.70; P = .077) between various bye weeks ( P = .73). Injury rates did not differ between the new 17-game regular season (18.4 per 1000 AEs) versus the previous four 16-game regular seasons (19.7 per 1000 AEs; P = .12). However, teams that did not qualify for the playoffs had a significantly higher injury rate (19.9 per 1000 AEs) as well as players on injured reserve (8.0 per 1000 AEs) than playoff-qualifying teams (18.4 and 6.8 per 1000 AEs, respectively; P < .05 for both).

CONCLUSION: Over 5 NFL seasons, cumulative travel distance, overseas play, bye week timing, and adding 1 regular season game were not associated with increased injury rates in NFL players. However, a lack of regular season success was associated with higher injury rates and more players on injured reserve.

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