A historical perspective of injuries in professional football. Twenty-six years of game-related events

JAMA. 1988 Aug 19;260(7):939-44.


A professional football franchise was studied consecutively from 1960 through 1985 for injuries incurred during regular-season games. A "significant" injury was defined as one requiring the player to miss at least two consecutive games (N = 331) and a "major" injury as one that caused the player to miss at least eight games or the equivalent time (N = 130). Significant injuries averaged 0.89 per game and major injuries 0.35 per game for the entire 26 years. Following a high injury rate prior to 1965, significant injury rates were episodic. Major injuries declined (rs = -.68; P less than .01). Since the team's first games on synthetic surfaces in 1968, there was no difference in the rates of significant injuries per game (0.57 vs 0.67) or major injuries per game (0.22 vs 0.33) between games played on grass or artificial turf, respectively. Since 1969 there has been a decline in major knee injuries (rs = -.51; P less than .05) and a decline in major injuries incurred during special-teams play (rs = -.55; P less than .05). The data indicate that this team suffered fewer injuries with the passing of time, primarily in injuries that caused a player to miss at least eight consecutive games. Observations of short duration do not lend themselves to current media perception that injury rates are higher and more serious today in professional football.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Athletic Injuries / epidemiology*
  • Athletic Injuries / history
  • Athletic Injuries / rehabilitation
  • Football*
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Knee Injuries / epidemiology
  • Knee Injuries / history
  • Knee Injuries / rehabilitation
  • Leg Injuries / epidemiology
  • Leg Injuries / history
  • Leg Injuries / rehabilitation
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Time Factors