Objective guidelines permitting safe return to sport following anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction are infrequently used. The purpose of this study was to determine the published return to sport guidelines following ACL reconstruction in Level I randomized controlled trials. A systematic review was performed using Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines. Level I randomized controlled trials were included if they reported a minimum 2-year follow-up after ACL reconstruction and return to sport criteria. Outcomes analyzed were the timing of initiation of return to sport, follow-up duration, and use of quantitative/qualitative criteria to determine return to sport. Forty-nine studies were included (N=4178; 68% male; mean patient age, 27.5±3.2 years; mean follow-up, 3.0±1.9 years; mean time from injury to reconstruction, 379±321 days). Ninety-six percent of reconstructions used autograft and 87% were single-bundle reconstructions. Lysholm score, single-leg hop, isokinetic strength, and KT-1000 or KT-2000 arthrometer (MEDmetric, San Diego, California) testing were performed in 67%, 31%, 31%, and 82% of studies, respectively. Only 5 studies reported whether patients were able to successfully return to sport. Ninety percent and 65% of studies failed to use objective criteria or any criteria, respectively, to permit return to sport. Description of permission/allowance to return to sport was highly variable and poor. Twenty-four percent of studies failed to report when patients were allowed return to sport without restrictions. Overall, 39%, 45%, and 51% of studies permitted running at 3 months, return to cutting/pivoting sports at 6 months, and return to sport without restrictions at 6 months, respectively. Further research into validated return to sport guidelines is necessary to fill the existing void in contemporary literature and to guide clinical practice.
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