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Am J Sports Med. 2013 Jan;41(1):25-34. doi: 10.1177/0363546512464200. Epub 2012 Nov 9.

The effect of initial graft tension after anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction: a randomized clinical trial with 36-month follow-up.

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Department of Orthopaedics, Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University/Rhode Island Hospital, Providence, Rhode Island, USA.



The initial graft tension applied at the time of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction alters joint contact and may influence cartilage health. The objective was to compare outcomes between 2 commonly used "laxity-based" initial graft tension protocols.


(1) The high-tension group would have less knee laxity, improved clinical and patient-oriented outcomes, and less cartilage damage than would the low-tension group after 36 months of healing. (2) The outcomes of the high-tension group would be equivalent to those of a matched control group.


Randomized controlled trial; Level of evidence, 1.


Ninety patients with isolated unilateral ACL injuries were randomized to undergo ACL reconstruction using 1 of 2 initial graft tension protocols: (1) autografts tensioned to restore normal anterior-posterior (AP) laxity at the time of surgery (ie, low tension; n = 46) and (2) autografts tensioned to overconstrain AP laxity by 2 mm (ie, high tension; n = 44). Sixty matched healthy patients formed the control group. Outcomes were assessed preoperatively, intraoperatively, and at 6, 12, and 36 months after surgery.


No significant differences were found between the 2 initial graft tension protocols for any of the outcome measures at 36 months. However, there were differences when comparing the 2 treatment groups to the control group. On average, AP laxity was 2 mm greater in the ACL-reconstructed groups than in the control group (P < .007). International Knee Documentation Committee (IKDC) knee evaluation scores, peak isokinetic knee extension torques, and 4 of 5 Knee Osteoarthritis Outcome Scores (KOOS) were significantly worse than the control group (P < .001, P < .027, and P < .05, respectively). Short Form-36 Health Survey (SF-36) scores and reinjury rates were similar between groups at 36 months. Although there were significant changes in radiography and magnetic resonance imaging present in the ACL-reconstructed knees of both treatment groups, the magnitude was relatively small and likely clinically insignificant at 36 months.


Both laxity-based initial graft tension protocols produced similar outcomes without fully restoring joint function or patient-oriented outcomes (KOOS) when compared with the control group. There was minimal evidence of cartilage damage 36 months after surgery.


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