Background: Rigorous rehabilitation after anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction is necessary for a successful surgical outcome. A large number of clinical trials continue to assess aspects of this rehabilitation process. Prior systematic reviews evaluated fifty-four Level-I and II clinical trials published through 2005.
Methods: Eighty-five articles from 2006 to 2010 were identified utilizing multiple search engines. Twenty-nine Level-I or II studies met inclusion criteria and were evaluated with use of the CONSORT (Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials) criteria. Topics included in this review are postoperative bracing, accelerated strengthening, home-based rehabilitation, proprioception and neuromuscular training, and six miscellaneous topics investigated in single trials.
Results: Bracing following ACL reconstruction remains neither necessary nor beneficial and adds to the cost of the procedure. Early return to sports needs further research. Home-based rehabilitation can be successful. Although neuromuscular interventions are not likely to be harmful to patients, they are also not likely to yield large improvements in outcomes or help patients return to sports faster. Thus, they should not be performed to the exclusion of strengthening and range-of-motion exercises. Vibration training may lead to faster and more complete proprioceptive recovery but further evidence is needed.
Conclusions: Several new modalities for rehabilitation after ACL reconstruction may be helpful but should not be performed to the exclusion of range-of-motion, strengthening, and functional exercises. Accelerated rehabilitation does not appear to be harmful but further investigation of rehabilitation timing is warranted.
Level of evidence: Therapeutic Level II. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.