Understandably, “when can I return to sport?” is one of the first questions clients ask post ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) injury. I get it, you’re mid season, staring down the barrel of a premiership when BAM! Your sporting career gets flipped on its head thanks to a rope like structure in your knee. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t what most want to hear, but there’s a good reason for it!
This blog is going to focus on Grade 3 ACL tears AKA a full rupture. Firstly, there’s 2 paths post ACL rupture- conservative (no surgery) and surgical (reconstruction). As Physiotherapists we apply similar rehab principles and guidelines to both. However, everyone’s recovery journey is different- some people don’t have the option to conservatively manage, others do. It depends on; the amount of damage (have you injured other structures in the process?), physical capacity, lifestyle and your goals- what you want to get back to doing.
Secondly, in regards to rehabilitation and return to sport there is so much variation. It is likely you have met people who have gone back to playing football 8 weeks after an ACL injury. It is also likely you know people who have taken 2 years to return to the sporting scene or have never returned. As Physiotherapists we can equip you with the facts and stats. However, at the end of the day when and how you return to sport is ultimately your choice. We are here to guide, support and educate you to give the best chance at a great outcome and reduce the risk of re-rupture or future injury.
Regarding statistics- there is so much out there. There’s a number of evidence based statistics we as Physiotherapists can use to inform you. For example: 65% of patients who have an ACL reconstruction return to their pre-injury sporting level. To increase your likelihood of being in that 65%, our Physiotherapists follow gold standard rehabilitation protocols which have multiple phases as listed below.
Phase 1) Reduce swelling and restore full range of motion
Phase 2) Strength and Neuromuscular control
Phase 3) Running, Agility and Landings
Phase 4) Return to Sport
Phase 5) Prevention
Phase 5 is just as important as the other 4 phases! Each of these phases has specific key performance criteria. Meeting this criteria before progressing to the next phase is the biggest indicator in predicting a safe and successful return to sport. Studies have shown that 38% of those who return to sport WITHOUT meeting the performance criteria re-injure their ACL. Compared to their counterparts who only had a 5% re-injury rate. Additionally, for every 1 month you delay your return to sport, there has been shown to be a 51% reduction in reinjury rate up until 9 months. Keeping in mind there are many other physical and psychological factors needing to be considered when returning to sport.
What can you do to give yourself the best possibility of a positive outcome?
Create a long term plan with a Physiotherapist you trust
Follow a guided rehab program - be proactive but don’t try to jump ahead.
Respect healing times and be patient with yourself- it’s a marathon not a sprint!
Meet the performance criteria directed by your Physiotherapist and delay return to sport until 9 months if possible.
You can see why it’s a lengthy process can’t you?! Increase your likelihood of an awesome outcome and call 86826665 to book an appointment with one of our Physiotherapists!