Objective: To review recent evidence in order to update previous systematic reviews on methods of rehabilitation after anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction.
Data sources: PubMed, Embase, and the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register were searched for the period January 2006 to December 2010, using terms related to ACL, rehabilitation, and randomized controlled trial (RCT). The search was done in triplicate, and the results reconciled (85 studies identified).
Study selection: Relevant studies in English that were peer-reviewed RCTs or prospective comparative studies evaluating methods of ACL rehabilitation were included (n = 29). Evidence was evaluated by all 3 authors using the CONSORT criteria.
Data extraction: The data extracted included number of patients, ACL reconstruction method, randomization method, intervention, length of, and loss to, follow-up, outcomes assessed, bias, and findings. The review included evidence on postoperative bracing, accelerated rehabilitation, home-based rehabilitation, proprioceptive and neuromuscular training, and miscellaneous topics that were investigated by single trials.
Main results: In 6 studies of postoperative bracing, no study found a clinically significant benefit of bracing or of restricted range of knee motion for pain control, knee laxity, or rehabilitation. Postoperative treatment without the use of a brace was not associated with less favorable outcomes. In 5 studies of accelerated strengthening, beginning eccentric quadriceps strengthening and isokinetic hamstring strengthening 2 weeks after ACL surgery improved or accelerated strength gains. Immediately postoperative weight-bearing, range of knee motion from 0° to 90° of flexion, and strengthening with closed-chain exercises were probably all safe. Home-based rehabilitation was evaluated in 2 studies. One study demonstrated that this intervention was at least as successful as a standard accelerated program over the long term. The other study included very low compliance expectations and other methodologic problems that precluded a useful assessment of benefit. Nine trials of neuromuscular strengthening (including perturbation, vibration, and/or balance training by various means) compared with strength, traditional rehabilitation, or placebo found some small short-term benefits to proprioceptive training and no harm from any of the treatments. Vibration training in addition to other strengthening may lead to faster proprioceptive recovery but the benefits to overall functional outcome are less clear. A study of vitamin C and E supplementation found a correlation between higher presurgery vitamin C levels and greater strength at 3 months, but this strength increase was not related to postsurgical vitamin C supplementation. Hyaluronic acid injection at 8 weeks improved ambulation and peak torque more than other doses or placebo, but poor outcomes in the control group raise questions about the quality of the standard rehabilitation program. Running interval training and continuous active motion had unclear effects. Using the uninjured leg for single-leg cycling prevented the usual loss of aerobic fitness in the postoperative period. Preoperative and postoperative video instruction decreased expectations of pain and increased self-efficacy although it made no difference to performance.
Conclusions: The review of rehabilitation interventions after ACL reconstruction suggests that both accelerated and home-based rehabilitation, neuromuscular training programs, hyaluronic acid injection, and single (uninjured) leg cycling may be beneficial. Preoperative and postoperative informational videos may be valuable for psychological well-being. Insufficient evidence was found to recommend bracing.