We have had a number of people come in recently who have unfortunately ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in their knee. The first question that often gets asked is when will I return? And will I be able to play at the same level?
Firstly let’s talk about what the ACL ligament is. The ACL ligament is required for maintaining stability of the knee and so when it is ruptured, it exposes the knee to increased risk of instability and instability events. This loss of stability generally means that the sportsperson may be unable participate in sports that require high levels of knee stability to carry out tasks, these include changing direction when running, landing from jumps or in contact with other participants.
Most commonly in Australia the approach is to have surgery to recreate stability in the knee by using a tendon graft (hamstring, patella or quadriceps). The recovery following sport ranges from 9-12+ months. Interestingly in non elite populations (although participants of competitive sport), the majority (66%) took longer than 12 months to return to sport, Ardern et al 2010. However research does show that 81% of people return to some level of sport and 55% return to competitive sport following ACL reconstruction. The reasons behind why people return or do not return often have to do with level of sport and the motivation of the participant to return.
So if you participate in elite sport what are the chances or returning?
Fortunately in elite sport the majority of athletes return to a high level, 83% Lai et al 2018. The other good news is that they perform to a comparable standard to their uninjured counterparts. So although returning from an ACL injury may be a slow process, often greater than 12 months, if you are motivated to return to elite sport and have good rehabilitation, then the chances are you will be able to return to a high level in your elite or competitive sport.