Background: Rehabilitation of soccer players after anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction is usually performed without sport-specific guidelines, and the final phases are often left to the team coaches. The possibility of changing this approach has not yet been investigated.
Study design: Case series.
Hypothesis: A specific rehabilitation protocol for soccer players, with direct control of the last on-field rehabilitation phases, may lead to complete functional recovery.
Methods: Fifty competitive soccer players who followed a sport-specific rehabilitation protocol for soccer were evaluated during the recovery period until their return to competition. The assessment of the functional outcomes was performed using the Knee Outcome Survey-Sports Activity Scale and isokinetic and aerobic fitness tests.
Results: The average start of on-field rehabilitation was 90 ± 26 days after surgery; the average time to return to the competitions was 185 ± 52 days. The improvement in the Knee Outcome Survey-Sports Activity Scale during on-field rehabilitation was significant (P < 0.01; from 79 ± 15% to 96 ± 7%). The isokinetic and aerobic fitness tests showed a significant improvement of muscle strength (knee extensors, +55%, P < 0.01; knee flexors, +86%, P < 0.01) and aerobic threshold (+23%, P < 0.01) from the beginning to the end of on-field rehabilitation.
Conclusions: Adding on-field rehabilitation to the traditional protocols after anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction may safely lead to complete functional recovery in soccer players.
Keywords: Anterior Cruciate Ligament reconstruction; clinical outcomes; on-field rehabilitation; return to sport.