Syndesmosis sprains in the National Football League (NFL) can be a persistent source of disability, especially compared with lateral ankle injuries. This study evaluated syndesmosis and lateral ankle sprains in NFL players to allow for better identification and management of these injuries. Syndesmosis and lateral ankle sprains from a single NFL team database were reviewed over a 15-year period, and 32 NFL team physicians completed a questionnaire detailing their management approach. A comparative analysis was performed analyzing several variables, including diagnosis, treatment methods, and time lost from sports participation. Thirty-six syndesmosis and 53 lateral ankle sprains occurred in the cohort of NFL players. The injury mechanism typically resulted from direct impact in the syndesmosis and torsion in the lateral ankle sprain group (P5.034). All players were managed nonoperatively. The mean time lost from participation was 15.4 days in the syndesmosis and 6.5 days in the lateral ankle sprain groups (P≤.001). National Football League team physicians varied treatment for syndesmosis sprains depending on the category of diastasis but recommended nonoperative management for lateral ankle sprains. Syndesmosis sprains in the NFL can be a source of significant disability compared with lateral ankle sprains. Successful return to play with nonoperative management is frequently achieved for syndesmosis and lateral ankle sprains depending on injury severity. With modern treatment algorithms for syndesmosis sprains, more aggressive nonoperative treatment is advocated. Although the current study shows that syndesmosis injuries require longer rehabilitation periods when compared with lateral ankle sprains, the time lost from participation may not be as prolonged as previously reported.
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