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This article has been peer reviewed. It is the author’s final published version in Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine

Volume 5, Issue 12, December 2015

The published version is available at DOI: 10.1177/2325967117745530. Copyright © Bishop et al.


Background: Numerous reports have described players in professional American sports leagues who have been sidelined with a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or a pulmonary embolism (PE), but little is known about the clinical implications of these events in professional athletes.

Purpose: To conduct a retrospective review of injury reports from the National Hockey League (NHL), Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball Association (NBA), and the National Football League (NFL) to take a closer look at the incidence of DVT/PE, current treatment approaches, and estimated time to return to play in professional athletes.

Study Design: Descriptive epidemiology study.

Methods: An online search of all team injury and media reports of DVT/PE in NHL, MLB, NBA, and NFL players available for public record was conducted by use of Google, PubMed, and SPORTDiscus. Searches were conducted using the professional team name combined with blood clot, pulmonary embolism, and deep vein thrombosis.

Results: A total of 55 venous thromboembolism (VTE) events were identified from 1999 through 2016 (NHL, n = 22; MLB, n = 16; NFL, n = 12; NBA, n = 5). Nineteen athletes were reported to have an upper extremity DVT, 15 had a lower extremity DVT, 15 had a PE, and 6 had DVT with PE. Six athletes sustained more than 1 VTE. The mean age at time of VTE was 29.3 years (range, 19-42 years). Mean (±SD) time lost from play was 6.7 ± 4.9 months (range, 3 days to career end). Seven athletes did not return to play. Players with upper extremity DVT had a faster return to play (mean ± SD, 4.3 ± 2.7 months) than those with lower extremity DVT (5.9 ± 3.8 months), PE (10.8 ± 6.8 months), or DVT with PE (8.2 ± 2.6 months) (F = 5.69, P = .002). No significant difference was found regarding time of return to play between sports.

Conclusion: VTE in professional athletes led to an average of 6.7 months lost from play. The majority of athletes were able to return to play after a period of anticoagulation or surgery. Those with an upper extremity DVT returned to play faster than those with other types of VTE. Further study is needed to look into modifiable risk factors for these events and to establish treatment and return-to-play guidelines to ensure the safety of these athletes.

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