Magnetic Resonance Imaging Findings in the Symptomatic Hips of Younger Retired National Football League Players h Femoroacetabular Impingement.


Background: American football players have an increased level of risk for hip injuries because of the high level of contact, biomechanical load, and anatomic strain placed on the hip joint. Many injuries are attributed to soft tissue injury rather than intra-articular lesions. However, because of improved imaging and increased knowledge, physicians are attributing unexplained hip pain to intra-articular lesions with increasing frequency.

Purpose: To assess the prevalence of pathologic intra-articular hip lesions in a younger, retired National Football League (NFL) player cohort evaluated for persistent hip pain.

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

Methods: A retrospective chart review was performed of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) on retired NFL players evaluated at an orthopaedic clinic for persistent hip pain. All MRIs were performed at the same location and reviewed by the same independent radiologist. The study included 62 hips; MRI was used to evaluate 27 hips, and MRI arthrogram was used to evaluate 35 hips. Images were assessed for labral tears, chondral lesions, ligamentum teres (LT) tears, bone cysts, osteophytes, loose bodies, trochanteric bursitis, and alpha angle. Player demographics, including position and seasons played, were recorded.

Results: From February 2011 to December 2012, a total of 50 retired players from the NFL (average age, 33 years; range, 27-39 years) received impairment evaluations assessing all symptomatic joints. Thirty-eight (76%) players had hip complaints and underwent a dedicated hip MRI. Twenty-four players (63%) had bilateral hip pain, for a total of 62 hips evaluated. There were 55 (89%) labral tears, 61 (98%) chondral lesions, and 50 (81%) partial or complete LT tears identified on MRI. Additional findings included 3 (5%) hips with osteophytes, 9 (14.5%) with subchondral bone cysts, and 3 (5%) with paralabral cysts. None of the players were found to have trochanteric bursitis or loose bodies. Fifty-eight of 62 alpha angles could be measured, for a mean of 59° (range, 39°-77°). The majority of players were defensive players (63%), while the remainder were offensive players (34%) and 1 special teams player. Position breakdown was as follows: 29% were defensive backs, 16% played the defensive line, 18% were linebackers, 13% were fullbacks, 11% were wide receivers, 5% played the offensive line, and the remaining 8% were kickers, running backs, and quarterbacks.

Conclusion: This study demonstrated a high incidence of intra-articular pathologic lesions of the hip in a younger cohort of retired NFL players. The majority of players had bilateral hip pain. The most common finding was chondral lesions, followed by labral tears. Future research is needed to further elucidate incidence and treatment outcomes using prospective studies examining active and retired players with hip-related injuries.

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