Return to competitive football after major knee surgery: more questions than answers?

J Sports Sci. 2014;32(13):1209-16. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2014.909603. Epub 2014 May 1.


Despite significant advances in the diagnostics and treatment of knee injuries over the last decade, several challenges related to the subject "return to sport" remain largely unknown. For example, how should "return to sport" be defined precisely? What is the optimal timing and progression to enable a return to sport? Which criteria should be used during this process? What type of training is indicated? Which measurements can support the decision-making process? How do we optimally prepare athletes for competition without risking re-injury? This paper critically addresses these questions, and proposes a return to play model to prepare football players to compete after major knee surgery (anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction, cartilage repair). The goal is to re-integrate the player gradually into the game, taking into account his individual characteristics. Several evidence-based and empirical criteria are needed to plan and monitor the efficient return to competitive football. Injury-prevention education should be part of this process to maximise the chance of a durable career and decrease the risk of re-injury. However, because of the paucity of research on "return to sport", further research is more than warranted.

Keywords: criteria; football-specific; prevention; return to sport; timing.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament / surgery*
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries*
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction
  • Competitive Behavior*
  • Decision Making*
  • Humans
  • Knee Injuries / epidemiology
  • Knee Injuries / prevention & control
  • Knee Injuries / rehabilitation*
  • Recovery of Function
  • Recurrence
  • Soccer / injuries*
  • Treatment Outcome