Surgery for anterior cruciate ligament deficiency: a historical perspective

Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. 2012 Jan;20(1):5-47. doi: 10.1007/s00167-011-1756-x. Epub 2011 Nov 22.


The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) has entertained scientific minds since the Weber brothers provided biomechanical insight into the importance of the ACL in maintaining normal knee kinematics. Robert Adams described the first clinical case of ACL rupture in 1837 some 175 years to date, followed by Mayo-Robson of Leeds who performed the first ACL repair in 1895. At that time, most patients presented late and clinicians started to appreciate signs and symptoms and disabilities associated with such injuries. Hey Groves of Bristol provided the initial description of an ACL reconstruction with autologous tissue graft in 1917, almost as we know it today. His knowledge and achievements were, however, not uniformly appreciated during his life time. What followed was a period of startling ingenuity which created an amazing variety of different surgical procedures often based more on surgical fashion and the absence of a satisfactory alternative than any indication that continued refinements were leading to improved results. It is hence not surprising that real inventors were forgotten, good ideas discarded and untried surgical methods adopted with uncritical enthusiasm only to be set aside without further explanation. Over the past 100 years, surgeons have experimented with a variety of different graft sources including xenograft, and allografts, whilst autologous tissue has remained the most popular choice. Synthetic graft materials enjoyed temporary popularity in the 1980 and 1990s, in the misguided belief that artificial ligaments may be more durable and better equipped to withstand stresses and strains. Until the 1970s, ACL reconstructions were considered formidable procedures, often so complex and fraught with peril that they remained reserved for a chosen few, never gaining the level of popularity they are enjoying today. The increasing familiarity with arthroscopy, popularised through Jackson and Dandy, and enhancements in surgical technology firmly established ACL reconstruction as a common procedure within the realm of most surgeons' ability. More recently, the principle of anatomic ACL reconstruction, aiming at the functional restoration of native ACL dimensions and insertion sites, has been introduced, superseding the somewhat ill-advised concept of isometric graft placement. Double-bundle reconstruction is gaining in popularity, and combined extra- and intra-articular procedures are seeing a revival, but more accurate and reliable pre- and post-operative assessment tools are required to provide customised treatment options and appropriate evaluation and comparability of long-term results. Modern ACL surgery is united in the common goal of re-establishing joint homoeostasis with normal knee kinematics and function which may ultimately assist in reducing the prevalence of post-operative joint degeneration. This review hopes to provide an insight into the historical developments of ACL surgery and the various controversies surrounding its progress. Level of evidence V.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Portrait

MeSH terms

  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament / anatomy & histology
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament / surgery
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries*
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction / history*
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction / instrumentation
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction / methods
  • Arthroscopy / history
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Joint Instability / etiology
  • Joint Instability / history
  • Joint Instability / surgery
  • Knee Injuries / complications
  • Knee Injuries / history*
  • Knee Injuries / surgery
  • Tendons / transplantation