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Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. 2018 Nov 1. doi: 10.1007/s00167-018-5258-y. [Epub ahead of print]

Nearly 90% participation in sports activity 12 years after non-surgical management for anterior cruciate ligament injury relates to physical outcome measures.

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Private Practice, Nambour, Australia.
School of Health and Sports Sciences, The University of the Sunshine Coast, Sippy Downs, QLD, Australia.
School of Psychology and Institute for Teaching and Learning Innovation, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Brisbane, QLD, Australia.
Private Practice, Nambour, Australia.



Traditionally reconstructive surgery is recommended for patients planning to return to sport (RTS), especially to pivoting sports after anterior cruciate (ACL) rupture. Recent trends focus on delaying or avoiding surgery as some studies have found similar rates of RTS following both surgical and conservative management. This study aimed to establish long-term RTS levels in ACL-ruptured individuals treated conservatively, and to investigate the relationship between outcome measures and RTS, in particular, pivoting sports.


Fifty-five patients from a cohort of 132 ACL-deficient patients were followed-up for  12 (IQR 8,19) years post injury. Mean-aged 42 years, 22 patients were females and 33 males, 35 had meniscal injuries. Patients were treated with physiotherapy focussing on strength and dynamic stability training and not reconstructive surgery. Return to sport was measured on a 6-point scale. Outcome measures included: objective stability, subjective stability, quadriceps and hamstring strength. Spearman's rho and Chi-square tests were used to assess the relationship between RTS and outcome measures.


Eighty-nine percent of ACL-deficient patients were currently participating in sport despite a 38% increase in anterior translation (p < 0.001) and a 7.5% loss of quadriceps strength (p = 0.004) compared to the contralateral side. Six patients (11%) did not RTS, ten (18%) returned to safe sports, five (9%) returned to running and 16 (29%) to non-strenuous sports involving limited twisting. Eighteen patients (33%) returned to pivoting sports, 12(22%) at recreational level and six (11%) at competitive level. The level of RTS was related to subjective stability (p = 0.002), and to quadriceps and hamstring strength of the injured leg (p < 0.001). Patients able to return to pivoting sports differed significantly from those not doing so in outcome measures including objective (p = 0.022) and subjective stability (p = 0.035), and quadriceps strength (p = 0.044).


Eighty-nine percent of ACL-ruptured individuals treated conservatively lead an active sporting life. One-third returned to pivoting sports.  Overall RTS was related to subjective and objective stability and quadriceps and to a lesser extent hamstring strength. This finding reinforced the importance of dynamic stability training as an initial treatment option in most cases.




Anterior cruciate ligament; Conservative management; Outcome measures; Pivoting sports; Return to sport


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