Quadriceps Tendon Injuries in National Football League Players

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Abstract

Background:

Distal quadriceps tendon tears are uncommon injuries that typically occur in patients older than 40 years of age, and they have a guarded prognosis. Predisposing factors, prodromal findings, mechanisms of injury, treatment guidelines, and recovery expectations are not well described in high-level athletes.

Hypothesis:

Professional American football players with an isolated tear of the quadriceps tendon treated with timely surgical repair will return to their sport.

Study Design:

Case series; Level of evidence, 4.

Methods:

Fourteen unilateral distal quadriceps tendon tears were identified in National Football League (NFL) players from 1994 to 2004. Team physicians retrospectively reviewed training room and clinic records, operative notes, and imaging studies for each of these players. Data on each player were analyzed to identify variables predicting return to play. A successful outcome was defined as returning to play in regular-season NFL games.

Results:

Eccentric contraction of the quadriceps was the most common mechanism of injury, occurring in 10 players. Only 1 player had antecedent ipsilateral extensor mechanism symptoms. Eleven players had a complete rupture of the quadriceps tendon, and 3 had partial tears. There were no associated knee injuries. All ruptures were treated with surgical repair, 1 of which was delayed after failure of nonoperative treatment. Fifty percent of players returned to play in regular-season NFL games. There was a trend toward earlier draft status for those who returned to play compared with those who did not (draft round, 3.1 ± 2.5 vs 6.0 ± 2.9, respectively; P = .073). For those who returned to play, the average number of games after injury was 40.9 (range, 12-92).

Conclusion:

Quadriceps tendon tears are rare in professional American football players, and they usually occur from eccentric load on the extensor mechanism. Prodromal symptoms and predisposing factors are usually absent. Even with timely surgical repair, there is a low rate of return to play in regular-season games. There is a trend toward early draft rounds for those who successfully return to play.

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