A pair-matched comparison of return to pivoting sports at 1 year in anterior cruciate ligament-injured patients after a nonoperative versus an operative treatment course

Am J Sports Med. 2012 Nov;40(11):2509-16. doi: 10.1177/0363546512458424. Epub 2012 Sep 7.


Background: Patients usually return to pivoting sports between 6 months and 1 year after anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction, but no matched study has so far examined 1-year return to sport rates in nonoperatively and operatively treated ACL-injured patients.

Hypothesis: Anterior cruciate ligament-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.

Study design: Cohort study; level of evidence, 3.

Methods: 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 arthrometer measurements, 4 hop tests, and patient-reported outcome measures. McNemars test and paired t tests or Wilcoxon test were used to compare outcomes of nonoperatively and operatively treated patients.

Results: 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 = 1.00), or in return to level I sport rates (nonoperative: 54.8%, operative: 61.9%, P = .66). Nonoperatively treated patients who participated in level I sports before injury had a significantly lower return to sport rate (54.8%) than nonoperatively treated patients who participated in level II sports (88.9%, P = .003). The nonoperatively treated patients had significantly higher knee joint laxity, but significantly better hop test limb symmetry indexes, Knee Outcome Survey Activities of Daily Living scores, and International Knee Documentation Committee Subjective Knee Form 2000 scores. None of the functional differences was larger than the smallest detectable difference.

Conclusion: Anterior cruciate ligament-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. Although 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.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament / surgery
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries*
  • Athletic Injuries / surgery
  • Athletic Injuries / therapy*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Return to Work