Two Thirds of Athletes don’t Return to Pre-injury Sports Level a Year Out from ACL Reconstruction Surgery

knee acl surgery recovery

Most athletes believe that when they have a torn ACL ligament, surgical reconstruction will make their knees like new again. Is this true? Well a recent study questions this assumption, reporting that about 2/3rd’s of 500 athletes failed to achieve their pre-injury level of play despite being a year out from ACL surgery. In the study, men were more likely to return to sports then women and patients with a good hop test were more likely to return. The study on knee ACL surgery recovery concluded that more than a year of rehab is needed to get back to sports, but my personal opinion would be that if you’re not able to get back to sports a year out from ACL surgery that it’s unlikely to happen. This brings up an important point. We’re still routinely replacing knee ACL ligaments that are partially torn and in our clinical experience, these injuries can often be successfully treated through a needle, with an ACL surgery alternative without the need to yank the existing ACL out and put in a new one. If most athletes whom we treat with ACL knee surgery will never get back to sports and that’s the reason they’re having the surgery, why are we surgically removing these ligaments to replace them? Good question. We believe that the balance of the data supports surgically replacing a completely torn and retracted knee ACL, to prevent long-term instability that will lead to eventual knee arthritis. However, we also believe that injection therapies are likely the first line option for partially torn or stretched ACL’s rather than surgical replacement. Here’s an example of what can happen when cells are injected into the ACL of a sidelined young soccer star with a partially torn ligament. The upshot? Once an ACL is torn, the athlete needs to consider all options carefully, as surgical reconstruction of the knee ACL ligament usually doesn’t translate into returning to sports.

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Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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