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Management of Hand and Wrist Injuries in NCAA Division I Football Players From a Single Institution: Factors Associated With Epidemiology, Surgical Intervention, and Return to Play.

BACKGROUND: Upper extremity injuries account for approximately 16.9% of football injuries in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

PURPOSE: To determine the epidemiology, management, and outcomes of hand/wrist injuries in collegiate football athletes so as to identify factors associated with surgical intervention and delayed return to play (RTP).

STUDY DESIGN: Descriptive epidemiology study.

METHODS: We retrospectively reviewed hand/wrist injuries that occurred within a single NCAA Division I football team from January 1, 2003, to December 31, 2020. Data analyzed included player position, college seniority, injury characteristics, injury management, surgical procedures performed, and timing of RTP. A univariate analysis was performed to identify factors associated with increased risk for surgical intervention and delayed (>21 days) RTP after hand and wrist injury in this cohort.

RESULTS: Overall, 124 patients with 168 hand/wrist injuries were identified (9.9 wrist/hand injuries per year). Sprain of the thumb metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joint ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) was the most common diagnosis (19.6%). Surgery was required in 22% of injuries, with injury of the UCL of the thumb MCP joint (8/37) being the most common indication. Injuries occurring during competitive games (odds ratio = 4.29; 95% CI, 1.2-15.9) were associated with an increased risk for surgery. Most (70%) injuries did not lead to time missed from football, whereas the remaining 30% resulted in an average of 33 ± 36 days missed.

CONCLUSION: Over 17 athletic seasons, the annual incidence of hand and wrist injury in these NCAA Division I football players was 9.9 injuries per year, with 22% requiring surgical treatment. Injury to the UCL of the thumb MCP joint was the most common injury and indication for surgery, and 30% of injuries resulted in approximately 1 month lost. Injuries sustained in games were associated with operative management and delayed RTP.

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