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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 6, Issue 2, February 2018

The published version is available at . Copyright © Chang et al.


Background: Although much literature exists regarding the treatment and management of elbow dislocations in the general population, little information is available regarding management in the athletic population. Furthermore, no literature is available regarding the postinjury treatment and timing of return to play in the contact or professional athlete.

Purpose: To review the clinical course of elbow dislocations in professional football players and determine the timing of return to full participation.

Study Design: Case series; Level of evidence, 4.

Methods: All National Football League (NFL) athletes with elbow dislocations from 2000 through 2011 who returned to play during the season were identified from the NFL Injury Surveillance System (NFL ISS). Roster position, player activity, use of external bracing, and clinical course were reviewed. Mean number of days lost until full return to play was determined for players with elbow dislocations who returned in the same season.

Results: From 2000 to 2011, a total of 62 elbow dislocations out of 35,324 injuries were recorded (0.17%); 40 (64.5%) dislocations occurred in defensive players, 12 (19.4%) were in offensive players; and 10 (16.1%) were during special teams play. Over half of the injuries (33/62, 53.2%) were sustained while tackling, and 4 (6.5%) patients required surgery. A total of 47 (75.8%) players who sustained this injury were able to return in the same season. For this group, the mean number of days lost in players treated conservatively (45/47) was 25.1 days (median, 23.0 days; range, 0.0-118 days), while that for players treated operatively (2/47) was 46.5 days (median, 46.5 days; range, 29-64 days). Mean return to play based on player position was 25.8 days for defensive players (n = 28; median, 21.5 days; range, 3.0-118 days), 24.1 days for offensive players (n = 11; median, 19 days; range, 2.0-59 days), and 25.6 days for special teams players (n = 8; median, 25.5 days; range, 0-44 days).

Conclusion: Elbow dislocations comprise less than a half of a percent of all injuries sustained in the NFL. Most injuries occur during the act of tackling, with the majority of injured athletes playing a defensive position. Players treated nonoperatively missed a mean of 25.1 days, whereas those managed operatively missed a mean of 46.5 days.

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