Return to Play After Isolated Syndesmotic Ligamentous Injury in Athletes: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

Foot Ankle Orthop. 2022 May 16;7(2):24730114221096482. doi: 10.1177/24730114221096482. eCollection 2022 Apr.


Background: Syndesmotic ankle sprains are common and challenging injuries for athletes. The management of such injuries is controversial, with a paucity of evidence on treatment protocols with unpredictability regarding the time lost to participate in sports following injury. The present study seeks to review and report the return to play (RTP) time and examine the outcomes and complications of ankle syndesmotic sprains in the athletic population.

Methods: PubMed, Cochrane Library, and Google Scholar were queried in August 2021 for case series, cohorts, and randomized controlled trials that evaluated return to play time after ankle syndesmotic sprains. The primary outcomes were the rate and time to return to play after syndesmotic ankle sprains for both surgical and nonsurgical treatment. Secondary outcomes included short-term complications and recurrence.

Results: Eighteen articles were eligible for meta-analysis with a total of 1133 syndesmotic sprains. The overall RTP was 99% (95% CI 0.96, 1.00), the overall mean RTP was 52.32 days (95% CI 39.01, 65.63). Pooled RTP for surgically treated patients was 70.94 days (95% CI 47.04, 94.85), whereas it was 39.33 days (95% CI 28.78, 49.88) for nonsurgically treated cases. A low incidence of recurrence and complications were reported.

Conclusion: This article reports a high rate of RTP after syndesmotic sprains. Grade of injury and surgical vs conservative management can affect the time to RTP in high-level athletes.Level of Evidence: Level IV, systematic review and meta-analysis.

Keywords: ankle; athletes; meta-analysis; return to play; syndesmosis.