The Effect of Thursday Night Football on Injuries in the National Football League

Author(s): Akhil Sharma MD, Amanda N Fletcher MD, MS, Jay K Shah DO, MBA, Craig C Akoh MD, Selene G. Parekh MD, MBA

Background: This study aimed to determine the relationship of recovery period length on overall injury patterns (rates and incidence) for athletes in the National Football League.

Methods: Official NFL gamebooks were queried from 2011 to 2015, and each in-game injury was analyzed for all regular season games. Data included athlete name, position, season, week, date, weekday, teams, and injured body part. ANOVA testing determined statistical significance of injury rates across weekdays, season weeks, and positions.

Results: A total of 27,712 injuries were analyzed. On average, 21.4 (8.6; 20.9-21.9) injuries were sustained per game on Sunday, 18.2 (6.9; 16.7- 19.7) on Monday, and 21.7 (6.9; 20.2-23.3) on Thursday. The difference between Sunday and Thursday games was negligible (p=0.9264), while Monday games had fewer injuries than Sundays (p=0.0028) and Thursdays (p=0.0214). There was no difference in number of injuries each team sustained on Thursday compared to the week prior to (10.8 versus 10.8; p= 0.4971) or week after (10.8 versus 10.7; p=0.7315) its Thursday game. Among positions, defensive linemen (p=0.0036), linebackers (p=0.0297), skilled running positions (p=0.0099), and wide receivers (p=0.0259) sustained fewer injuries on Mondays compared to Sundays, but no statistical difference existed between Thursdays and Sundays.

Conclusion: Our analysis indicates that shortened recovery before Thursday games does not have significant effect on injury rates compared to Sunday games, while the additional rest day before Monday games correlates to fewer injuries. Additionally, there was no residual effect of reduced rest period affecting players' risk of injury the following week. A general trend of greater injury rates occurs as the season progresses; the incidence of injury during the final week of the season is nearly double that of the first. Interestingly, although injury rates did not differ among positions between Thursdays and Sundays, defensive positions and offensive ball-carrier positions saw reduced injuries on Mondays; this effect is likely secondary to the nature of their positions being most frequently involved in high-energy collisions during tackles.

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