Child Orthopedics

Frequently Asked Questions

Basketball season is just about to start. During the early practice season, I tore my left ACL and had surgery. If I go back too soon, will I risk reinjuring myself?

Many experts have encouraged players to wait at least six months before returning to full sports activity after anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgery. But there's some new evidence that waiting that long may not be necessary. One surgeon reported on middle-school and high school athletes who had ACL reconstruction. Out of nearly 3,000 patients who had ACL surgery, 402 basketball and soccer players were studied with just this question in mind. Only athletes (male and female) 17 and younger were included in the study. Many played year-round on school and other travel teams. They watched to see how long it took the athletes to return to full activity, including team competition. No one was pushed to return to sports before they were ready. And they kept track of how many patients went on to play college sports. After the first year post-op, everyone was followed on an annual (yearly) basis. Any injuries to the other (previously uninvolved) knee were reported. The players were given goals for rehab and guidelines for progressing through the program. The first goal was to reduce swelling and get full knee motion back. Once they had full range-of-motion, then they could be advanced to a strengthening program. Because basketball and soccer require fast moves, change of direction, pivoting and twisting, agility drills were added to the rehab program. When they were ready, recovering players were progressed to team drills and functional sports drills. Players were told to pursue the rehab program as tolerated. They were instructed to monitor their own knee range-of-motion, swelling, soreness, pain, and tenderness. Any increase in symptoms or loss of motion was a sign that they should back off from their program and take it easy for a day. In the beginning sports drills and competition were limited to every other day. It wan't necessary to wait six months before getting back into action? No. Many players completed the rehab program and returned to their former level of play as early as three months after surgery. And they did so without incurring future injuries. The average time for recovery was five months. Of course, you'll want to follow your surgeon's and coach's recommendations. Each patient/player is unique with his or her own individual considerations that can make a difference.

K. Donald Shelbourne, MD, et al. Return to Basketball and Soccer After Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction in Competitive School-Aged Athletes. In Sports Health. May/June 2009. Vol. 1. No. 3. Pp. 236-241.

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