Epidemiologic trends in hand injuries in the National Football League from 2009-2010 to 2019-2020

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



The Physician and sportsmedicine




American football; finger; football injuries; injury incidence; metacarpus; sports injuries; thumb; wrist


OBJECTIVES: In American football, hand injuries have been shown to negatively impact performance. The purpose of this study is to characterize the prevalence and severity of hand injuries in National Football League (NFL) players. METHODS: A public online database was utilized to identify hand injuries in NFL players from 2009-2010 to 2019-2020. The primary outcome was to analyze the overall incidence of hand injuries (including wrist, metacarpus, finger, and thumb), injury type by each aforementioned anatomic location, and player position. Injury severity was evaluated based on percentage of injuries in which players returned to play (RTP), number of games missed before RTP, and the percentage of injuries resulting in the player being placed on injured reserve (IR). RESULTS: Of the 6,127 players included, 847 (13.8%) players sustained a hand injury, of which 24.8%, 34.3%, 17.9%, and 22.9% occurred at the wrist, metacarpus, finger, and thumb, respectively. Of the injured players, 97.4% returned to play following their injury, 14.8% were put on IR, and an average of 1.7 (SD 3.3) games were missed. Quarterbacks were the most likely to sustain hand injuries at all anatomic locations. Wrist injuries were associated with the lowest RTP rate (93.3%), the most players placed on injured reserve (28.6%), and the greatest number of games missed (mean 2.5, SD 4.2). CONCLUSION: Hand injuries decreased in prevalence by 65.6% over the 11 NFL seasons evaluated. This trend coincides with the implementation of several safety rules that relate to components of play involving the hands. Quarterbacks experienced the greatest prevalence and severity for all hand injuries. Wrist injuries represent the anatomic location associated with the greatest severity. These findings may be able to inform tailored injury prevention practices by position, and advocate for the further adoption of safety rules to protect players from further injury.


School of Medicine and Health Sciences Student Works