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J Sport Rehabil. 2019 May 29:1-20. doi: 10.1123/jsr.2019-0038. [Epub ahead of print]

Lack of Consensus on Return to Sport Criteria Following Lateral Ankle Sprain: A Systematic Review of Expert Opinions.

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1 Department of Exercise and Sport Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC.



Lateral ankle sprains (LAS) have one of the highest recurrence rates of all musculoskeletal injuries. An emphasis on rapid return to sport (RTS) following LAS likely increases reinjury risk. Unfortunately, no set of objective RTS criteria exist for LAS, forcing practitioners to rely on their own opinion of when a patient is ready to RTS.


To determine if there was consensus among published expert opinions that could help inform an initial set of RTS criteria for LAS that could be investigated in future research.


PubMed, CINHL, and Sport Discuss databases were searched from inception until October 2018 using a combination of key words. Studies were included if they listed specific RTS criteria for LAS. No assessment of methodological quality was conducted because all included papers were expert opinion papers (level 5 evidence). Extracted data included the recommended domains (e.g. range of motion, balance, sport specific movement, etc.) to be assessed, specific assessments for each listed domain, and thresholds (e.g. 80% of the uninjured limb) to be used to determine RTS. Consensus and partial agreement were defined, a priori, as ≥75% and 50-75% agreement respectively.


Eight domains were identified within 10 included studies. Consensus was reached regarding the need to assess sport specific movement (n=9, 90%). Partial agreement was reached for the need to assess static balance (n=6, 60%). The domains of pain and swelling, patient reported outcomes, range of motion, and strength were also partially agreed on (n=5, 50%). No agreement was reached on specific assessments of cut-off thresholds.


Given consensus and partial agreement results, RTS decisions following LAS should be based on sport specific movement, static balance, patient reported outcomes, range of motion, and strength. Future research needs to determine assessments and cut-off thresholds within these domains to minimize recurrent LAS risk.


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