Prevalence of MRI-Detected Ankle Injuries in Athletes in the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Summer Olympics

Authors: Rafael Heiss, MD, Ali Guermazi, MD, PhD, Mohamed Jarraya, MD, Lars Engebretsen, MD, PhD, Thilo Hotfiel, MD, Pedram Parva, MD, Frank W. Roemer, MD

To describe the prevalence, severity, and location of ankle injuries as assessed on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in athletes participating in the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

We analyzed all ankle MRIs that were acquired for suspected injury as reported by the National Olympic Committee medical teams and the Organizing Committee medical staff during the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics. Diagnostic imaging was performed through the Olympic Village Polyclinic. Images were interpreted retrospectively according to standardized criteria.

A total of 11,274 athletes participated in the Games, of which 89 (8.8%) were referred for an ankle MRI. Eighty-eight of the 89 (99%) had at least 1 abnormal finding, and some had as many as 27, for an average of 6.2 abnormalities per examination. Around one-fifth of all abnormal findings were considered pre-existing (21%) and 79% were assumed to be the result of an acute or subacute injury. The highest proportion of acute/subacute injuries per athlete occurred in ball sports (7.0 injuries per examination) and in the age group >30. Most pre-existing findings per athlete were identified in the group of others (no track and field or ball sports athletes) with 2.5 findings per examination and respectively in the age group >30 (1.7).

Our study demonstrated a high prevalence of acute and subacute, but also pre-existing injuries in Olympic athletes undergoing ankle MRI. Tendon injuries were the most common acute injuries, found mainly in ball sports athletes. Most pre-existing ankle injuries were identified at the ligaments.