Background: Metacarpal and phalanx fractures are common among professional athletes. There is a paucity of data to guide team physicians on expected return to play after hand fractures. The purpose of this study was to examine the epidemiology and return to play times after hand fractures in NCAA athletes. We hypothesized that surgical management of fractures may expedite return to play times.
Methods: The NCAA Injury Surveillance Program database was queried for metacarpal and phalanx fractures during the 2009-2014 seasons in all sports. Injury rates per 100,000 athleteexposures (AEs) were calculated. Student's t-test, Wilcoxon Rank sum tests, Chi-Squared tests, and Fisher Exact Test were used. Statistical significance was set to p<0.05.
Results: Sports with the highest rates of phalanx and metacarpal fractures included Men's Football, Men's Ice Hockey, Men's Wrestling, and Women's Field Hockey. Multiple sports had participants with no hand fractures over the study period. Male student-athletes with metacarpal fractures treated operatively returned to play at a mean of 31.8±29.4 days versus 13.8±23.6 days for those treated non-operatively. 92% of male student-athletes were able to return to sport in the same season without operative management versus 67% with operative management. Female student-athletes had a cohort too small for statistical analysis. Return to play times for male student-athletes with phalanx fractures were not significantly different between operative and non-operative groups (16.1±21.5 days versus 7.1±13.3 days).
Conclusions: Hand fractures are relatively common among NCAA student-athletes participating in contact sports. Student-athletes with metacarpal fractures returned to play at an average of 2-4 weeks after injury; those with phalanx fractures returned at an average of 1-2 weeks. The return to play times illustrated within this study can be used to counsel athletes, athletic trainers, and coaches.Level of evidence: IV.
Keywords: NCAA; athlete; epidemiology; fracture; hand.
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