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ACL Reconstruction and Return to Sport

ACL Reconstruction and Return to Sport

Date: March 21, 2023

Anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction or ACL repair is the 6th most common orthopedic procedure in United States.1 After surgery the most common question as athletes progress along in the rehab process is when can I return to sport? This comes down to how far in the rehab process the patient is, and the results of several tests. These tests range from physical examination to various physical movements. Some that are commonly used look at leg strength, balance, and performance of jumping or agility activities.

            Common tests used for jumping or agility are the single leg hop test, crossover hop test for distance, triple hop test for distance, and the 6-meter hop test for time comparing the involved side and the uninvolved side. The Y-balance tests is used to look at balance in 3 different directions using one leg. During this test the physical therapist can also access the quality of movement of the involved side verses the uninvolved side. Quadricep and hamstring strength are also assessed with the use of different available tools to show the amount of force produced by each muscle group. When these tests are to be performed depends on where the patient is in the rehab process, the doctor’s protocol, type of surgery performed, and overall progress. This can vary from patient to patient. The end goal is the injured leg is 90% or greater of the uninvolved side in all tests depending on what the tests are measuring whether it be distance or pounds.

            So given these tests, what is the estimate for return to sport? Most research shows athletes can successfully return to sport 9-12 months after surgery. Those who return to sport earlier than this have shown to be 7 times more likely to reinjure their knee.2 While these tests can’t definitively say an athlete is ready to return to their sport, they can help the medical team in making this decision. However, these guidelines are individual to surgeons and the surgical procedures performed. In some situations, it may be appropriate to return to your sport at an accelerated pace, but this is something to discuss with your medical team.

            If you have suffered from an ACL tear and are looking to return to playing your sport call us at Aligned Orthopedic and Sports Therapy to schedule an appointment with one of our physical therapists today to help you in the process.

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  1. Kaan Celebi PT. Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury. APTA. Published January 28, 2014. Accessed November 28, 2022.
  2. Beischer S, Gustavsson L, Senorski EH, et al. Young athletes who return to sport before 9 months after anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction have a rate of new injury 7 times that of those who delay return. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. 2020;50(2):83-90. doi:10.2519/jospt.2020.9071
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