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MRI findings prior to return to play as predictors of reinjury in professional athletes: a novel decision‑making tool

ABSTRACT

Background: Because MRI has shown great accuracy in assessing acute muscle injuries, identification of risk factors for reinjury before return to play (RTP) in professional athletes during the healing process could be very relevant. We assessed the value of MRI findings prior to RTP as predictors of reinjury

Methods: Retrospective observational study of 59 professional athletes, mean age 26 years, with first-time acute muscle injury and successful rehabilitation ready to RTP. They underwent MRI within 6 days of the injury and within 7 days prior to RTP. The primary outcome was reinjury. Risk of reinjury was assessed using radiological signs in control MRI scans before RTP. The risk was classified as low, medium or high when none, one or two radiological signs were observed, respectively.

Results: Reinjury occurred in 9 participants, with a rate of 15.2%. None of the baseline MRI-related variables was significantly associated with reinjury. In the control MRI scan performed within 7 days prior to RTP, three independent findings were significantly associated with reinjury. These included transversal and/or mixed connective tissue gap (p = 0.002), intermuscular oedema (p = 0.015) and callus gap (p = 0.046). In the predictive model of the risk of reinjury, the presence of two of these radiological signs, together with interstitial feathery oedema, was associated with a high risk of recurrence (OR 29.58, 95% CI 3.86–226.64; p = 0.001).

Conclusions: In professional athletes with acute muscle injuries of the lower limbs successfully rehabilitated, some radiological signs on MRI performed shortly before RTP were associated with a high risk of reinjury.

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