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All authors whose names appear on the submission (1) made substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data; (2) drafted the work or revised it critically for important intellectual content; (3) approved the version to be published; and (4) agree to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

The authors declare no competing interests.


Research Funding:

Open access funding provided by the Qatar National Library.


  • Science & Technology
  • Life Sciences & Biomedicine
  • Orthopedics
  • Navicular stress fracture
  • Tarsal navicular
  • Athletes
  • Return to play
  • Operative management
  • Conservative management

Return to sport following navicular stress fracture: a systematic review and meta-analysis of three hundred and fifteen fractures


Journal Title:



Volume 45, Number 10


, Pages 2699-2710

Type of Work:

Article | Final Publisher PDF


Purpose: This meta-analysis aims to provide updated evidence on the success rate, return to play (RTP) rate, time to RTP, and complications of operatively and conservatively managed navicular stress fractures (NSFs) as well as delays in diagnosis while avoiding limitations of previous similar studies. Methods: Following the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines, two independent team members electronically searched MEDLINE (PubMed), EMBASE, Google Scholar, SCOPUS, and Cochrane databases throughout February 2021 using the following keywords with their synonyms: “Navicular stress fracture,” “return to play,” and “athletes.” The primary outcomes were (1) management success rate, (2) RTP rate, and (3) time to RTP. The secondary outcomes were (1) non-union, (2) time to diagnosis, (3) refracture, and (4) other complications. Inclusion criteria were clinical studies on NSFs reporting at least one of the desirable outcomes. Studies not reporting any of the outcomes of interest or the full text was not available in English, German, French, or Arabic were excluded. Case reports, case series with less than ten cases, and studies reporting exclusively on navicular non-union management were also excluded. The Newcastle–Ottawa scale was used for quality assessment while Review Manager (RevMan) Version 5.4 was used for the risk of bias assessment. Data were presented by type of treatment (surgical or conservative). If enough studies were present that were clinically and statistically homogeneous and data on them adequately reported, a meta-analysis was performed using a fixed-effects model. In case of statistical heterogeneity, a random-effects model was used. If meta-analysis was not possible, results were reported in a descriptive fashion. The need to explore for statistical heterogeneity was determined by an I2 greater than 40%. Results: Eleven studies met the inclusion criteria with a total of 315 NSF. Out of those, 307 (97.46%) NSFs were in athletes. One hundred eight (34.29%) NSFs were managed operatively, while 207 (65.71%) NSFs were managed conservatively. Successful outcomes were reported in 104/108 (96.30%) NSF treated operatively with a mean success rate of 97.9% (CI: 95.4–100%, I2 = 0%). Successful outcomes were reported in 149/207 (71.98%) NSF treated conservatively, with a mean success rate of 78.1% (CI: 66.6–89.6%, I2 = 84.93%). Successful outcome differences were found to be significant in favor of operative management (OR = 5.52, CI: 1.74–17.48, p = 0.004, I2 = 4.6%). RTP was noted in 97/98 (98.98%) NSF treated operatively and in 152/207 (73.43%) NSF treated conservatively, with no significant difference between operative and conservative management (OR = 2.789, CI: 0.80–9.67, p = 0.142, I2 = 0%). The pooled mean time to RTP in NSF treated operatively was 4.17 months (CI: 3.06–5.28, I2 = 92.88%), while NSF treated conservatively returned to play at 4.67 months (CI: 0.97–8.37, I2 = 99.46%) postoperatively, with no significant difference between operative and conservative management (SMD = − 0.397, CI: − 1.869–1.075, p = 0.60, I2 = 92.24). The pooled mean duration of symptoms before diagnosis was 9.862 (3.3–123.6) months (CI: 6.45–13.28, I2 = 94.92%), reported in ten studies. Twenty (23.53%) refractures were reported after conservative management of 85 NSFs, while one (1.28%) refracture was reported after operative management of 78 NSFs, with a significant difference in favor of operative management (OR = 0.083, CI: 0.007–0.973, p = 0.047, I2 = 38.78%). Conclusion: Operative management of NSF provides a higher success rate, a lower refracture rate, and a lower non-union rate as compared to other non-operative management options. While not significant, there is a notable trend towards superior RTP rates and time to RTP following operative management. Therefore, we recommend operative fixation for all NSFs type I through III in athletes. Athletes continue to exhibit an alarmingly long duration of symptoms before diagnosis is made; a high index of suspicion must be maintained, therefore, and adjunct CT imaging is strongly recommended in the case of any work-up. Unfortunately, the published literature on NSFs remains of lower level of evidence and high-quality studies are needed.

Copyright information:

© The Author(s) 2021

This is an Open Access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
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