The wish to return to level I pivoting sports is a major indication of ACL-reconstruction. Patients usually return to pivoting sports between 6 months and 1 year postoperatively, but no matched study has so far examined 1-year return to sport rates in nonoperatively and operatively treated ACL-injured patients.
ACL-injured patients following a nonoperative treatment course, including recommendation of activity modification, will have lower return to pivoting sport rates than operatively treated patients 1 year after baseline testing/surgery, when matched by preinjury sports activity, age and sex.
Pair-matched cohort study
Sixty-nine nonoperatively treated ACL-injured patients were pair-matched with 69 operatively treated patients (n=138), based on specific preinjury sport, age and sex. Nonoperatively treated patients were recommended not to return to level I sports. Patients were defined as nonoperatively or operatively treated according to their status at follow-up. The baseline and follow-up testing included registration of sports participation, KT-1000 measurements, 4 hop tests, and patient-reported outcome measures. McNemar’s test and paired t-tests or Wilcoxon’s test were used to compare outcomes of nonoperatively and operatively treated patients.
No significant baseline differences were found. At 12.9±1.2 months (mean ± standard deviation) after baseline testing (nonoperative) and 12.7±1.2 months after surgery (operative), there was no significant difference in overall return to sport rates (nonoperative: 68.1 %, operative: 68.1 %, p=1.000), or in return to level I sport rates (nonoperative: 54.8 %, operative: 61.9 %, p=0.664). Nonoperatively treated patients who participated in level I sports prior to injury had a significantly lower return to sport rate (54.8 %) than nonoperatively treated patients who participated in level II sports (88.9 %, p=0.003). The nonoperatively treated patients had significantly higher knee joint laxity, but significantly better hop test limb symmetry indexes, KOS-ADLS scores, and IKDC 2000 scores. None of the functional differences were larger than the smallest detectable difference.
ACL-injured patients following a nonoperative treatment course, including recommendations of activity modifications, and operatively treated patients did not have significantly different rates of returning to pivoting sports after 1 year in this pair-matched cohort study. Clinicians should be aware of a potentially high level of noncompliance to recommendations of activity modifications. While these results show that it is possible for nonoperatively treated patients to return to sport after rehabilitation, future follow-ups are needed to examine whether these patients maintain sports participation over time, and what long-term consequences they may suffer regarding subsequent injuries and knee osteoarthritis.
Keywords: anterior cruciate ligament, nonoperative treatment, anterior crucate ligament reconstruction, return to sport, knee function