Background: Anterior cruciate ligament rupture is a common knee injury. Surgical treatment, usually involving reconstruction of the ligament, is widely used especially in active individuals.
Objectives: Evaluation of the effect of surgical treatment compared with conservative treatment of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) rupture.
Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Musculoskeletal Injuries Group Specialised Register (January 2005), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (The Cochrane Library Issue 1, 2005), MEDLINE (1966 to January Week 3 2005), EMBASE (1988 to 2005 Week 05), MEDIC (1978 to January 1999), Current Contents (9.2.1998 to 1.2.1999), BIOSIS (1970 to December 1998), reference lists of articles and consulted trialists and experts.
Selection criteria: All randomised and quasi-randomised trials that compared surgical with conservative treatment of ACL rupture in adults.
Data collection and analysis: Two authors independently performed study selection, data extraction and quality assessment.
Main results: Two poor quality randomised trials conducted in the early 1980s were included in the review. The two trials differed considerably and no data pooling was done for the few shared outcome measures. One quasi-randomised trial of 167 people with a complete ACL rupture treated with repair or augmented repair versus conservative treatment found no difference in the return to sports activities between people treated surgically and those treated conservatively. Measures of knee stability and functional (Lysholm) knee scores were higher in surgically-treated participants. By the end of the follow-up period (average 55 months), three people treated with repair only and 16 treated conservatively had had ACL reconstruction. The other trial included 157 people with ACL injury. This found that conservatively-treated participants recovered from their injury more rapidly but, at the last follow up (minimum 13 months), the functional outcome was similar in both treatment groups. A large proportion of participants experienced some temporary discomfort after surgery and there were some more serious postoperative complications. There was less knee instability in surgically-treated participants and a tendency to fewer subsequent operations in the longer term.
Authors' conclusions: There is insufficient evidence from randomised trials to determine whether surgery or conservative management was best for ACL injury in the 1980s, and no evidence to inform current practice. Good quality randomised trials are required to remedy this situation.