Background: Offensive linemen in American football are prone to high-energy valgus forces to the knee, leading to associated injuries. Some offensive linemen in the National Football League (NFL) wear prophylactic knee braces (PKB) to prevent ligamentous injury. Purpose/Hypothesis: This purpose of the study was to compare injury rates and performance between NFL offensive linemen who wear PKB and those who do not. It was hypothesized that brace wear would be associated with fewer major knee injuries and no difference in gameplay performance. Study Design: Cohort study; Level of evidence, 3. Methods: For the 2014 through 2020 NFL seasons, offensive linemen with at least 200 game snaps per regular season were identified. Players were grouped by PKB status (bracers vs nonbracers) based on visualization of bilateral, dual-hinged metal knee braces as part of gameday uniforms on publicly available imaging databases and/or game videos. Major knee injuries, defined as those requiring the missing of games, were identified using publicly available data. Performance was assessed with Pro Football Focus grades for each season. Rates of major knee injury were compared between groups with the 2-sample Z test for proportions, and performance grades were compared with the unpaired t test. Results: For the cumulative study period, bracers demonstrated a significantly lower rate of major knee injuries than nonbracers (0.013 vs 0.049 injuries per player, respectively; P =.04). Isolated MCL injury was the most common injury for nonbracers. There was no group difference in performance for the cumulative study period or during most individual seasons. Yearly prevalence of PKB usage declined steadily from 16.3% in 2014 to 5.6% in 2020. A subgroup analysis of rookie players demonstrated an overall downtrend in usage during the study period as well. Conclusion: Results indicated that knee brace prophylaxis by NFL offensive linemen was associated with a reduced risk of major knee injury without a significant difference in performance when compared with nonbracers. Despite this, the prevalence of PKB declined over the study period.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Orthopedics and Sports Medicine