Background: Anterior cruciate ligament injuries are common in professional football players, and their career impact is unclear.
Purpose: To quantify the affect of anterior cruciate ligament injuries on professional football player performance.
Study design: Cohort study (prognosis); Level of evidence, 2.
Methods: Anterior cruciate ligament injury data from the National Football League were collected during a 5-year period (1998-2002) for running backs and wide receivers. Recorded variables included player age, experience, position, time to return to competition, and yearly total yards and touchdowns. Power ratings (total yards divided by 10 plus touchdowns multiplied by 6) were calculated for the injury season as well as for the 3 seasons before and after injury. A control group consisted of all running backs and wide receivers without an identified anterior cruciate ligament injury who competed in the 2000 season.
Results: Data were analyzed for 31 running backs and wide receivers with 33 anterior cruciate ligament injuries. More than one fifth of players never returned to a National Football League game. Returning players first competed in a game 55.8 +/- 5.4 weeks (mean +/- standard error) after injury. For the 24 anterior cruciate ligament-injured players with a minimum total power rating (sum of all 7 seasons) of 200 points, power rating per game played decreased from 9.9 +/- 1.1 preinjury to 6.5 +/- 0.9 postinjury. This decline in power rating per game played was statistically significant (P = .002) when compared with the change for the 146 control players.
Conclusion: Nearly four fifths of National Football League running backs and wide receivers who sustain an anterior cruciate ligament injury return to play in a game. On return to competition, player performance of injured players is reduced by one third.