Experiences of professional rugby union players returning to competition following anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction

Phys Ther Sport. 2012 Feb;13(1):35-40. doi: 10.1016/j.ptsp.2010.10.007. Epub 2010 Dec 10.


Objectives: The purpose of this study was to gain a greater understanding of the emotions and coping strategies utilized when returning to competition following anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction.

Design: A qualitative approach, consisting of five semi-structured interviews and a pre-designed diary, was conducted concurrent with each 'player's return to competition, allowing each to record emotional responses experienced and identify coping strategies employed.

Participants: Five professional male rugby union players, who had suffered an ACL injury that required surgical reconstruction, participated in the study. Each had spent between six to twelve months in rehabilitation.

Results: Content analysis was conducted on both pre- and post- return data, identifying 12 higher order themes. Confidence building; anticipation; anxiety; physical preparation; psychological preparation; and social support were prevalent pre-return to competition. Post-return higher order themes consisted of confidence building; positive performance emotions; performance anxieties; problem focused coping; social support; and dealing with fears.

Conclusions: For the players in this study, gaining confidence in the injured knee joint appears to be influential, with increases in confidence provided by completing clinical and sport specific tests, and by performance accomplishments. Successful return can be enhanced further by the use of a specific goal setting program aimed at reintroducing the player to competition.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adolescent
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction*
  • Athletes*
  • Football*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Recovery of Function / physiology*
  • Young Adult