Background: Very little information is available regarding the incidence, causative mechanisms, and expected duration of time lost after injuries to kickers (placekickers and punters) in American football.
Hypothesis: Lower extremity musculotendinous injuries are the most common type of injury in American football kickers. The injuries related to punting differ from injuries related to placekicking.
Study design: Descriptive epidemiologic study.
Methods: A retrospective review of all documented injuries to kickers in the National Football League over a 20-year period (1988-2007) was performed using the League's injury surveillance database. The data were analyzed from multiple perspectives, with emphasis on the type of kick or activity at the time of injury and the factors that affect return to play after injury.
Results: There were 488 total injuries over the 20-year period: 72% involved the lower extremity, 9% involved the lumbosacral spine, and 7% involved the head. Muscle-tendon injuries (49%) were the most common, followed by ligamentous injuries (17%). There was a significantly higher risk of injury in games (17.7 per 1000) than during practice (1.91 per 1000). Most injuries (93%) did not require surgery, and the mean time to return to play was 15 days if no surgery was necessary. Kickers over 30 years of age took longer to return to play (mean, 21 days) than younger kickers (mean, 12 days) after nonsurgical injuries (P = .03). Mean return to play after injuries that required surgery was 121 days. Lumbosacral soft tissue injury, lateral ankle sprains, and shoulder injuries were more likely to occur in punters than placekickers.
Conclusion: Kicking athletes face a low risk of injury in professional American football. Injuries most commonly involve the lower extremities. Training and injury prevention efforts should reflect that punting is associated with different injuries than placekicking, and that older kickers take longer to recuperate than younger kickers after certain injuries.