Professional athletes are predisposed to fractures of the foot due to large stresses placed on the lower extremity. These players are concerned with efficiently returning to play at a high level. Return-to-play rates after operative treatment have been previously reported, yet performance outcomes after such treatment are generally unknown in this population.
Overall, professional athletes sustaining a foot fracture would return to play at high rates with little impact on postoperative performance or league participation. However, National Football League (NFL) athletes would have a significantly greater decline in performance due to the high-impact nature of the sport.
Athletes in the National Basketball League (NBA), NFL, Major League Baseball (MLB), and National Hockey League (NHL) undergoing operative fixation of a foot fracture were identified through a well-established protocol confirmed by multiple sources of the public record. Return-to-play rate and time to return were collected for each sport. League participation and game performance data were collected before and after surgery. Statistical analysis was performed, with significance accepted as P ≤ 0.05.
A total of 77 players undergoing 84 procedures met the inclusion criteria. Overall, 98.7% (76/77) of players were able to return to play, with a median time to return across all sports of 137 days. Players returned to preoperative performance levels within 1 season of surgery. Six players (7.8%) sustained refracture requiring reoperation, all of whom were in the NBA. Percentage of games started during the season after primary operative treatment was a predictive factor for reinjury (99% vs 40%, P = 0.001).
Athletes returned to play at a high rate after foot fracture fixation, with excellent postoperative performance levels, regardless of sport and fracture location. NBA athletes sustaining fifth metatarsal and navicular fractures are at greater risk of reinjury compared with other athletes. Returning to high levels of athletic participation soon after surgery may predispose athletes to refracture and subsequent reoperation.