Background: Performance outcomes and return-to-play data have been reported after anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries in professional football and basketball, but they have rarely been reported in professional hockey.
Hypothesis: The hypothesis was that performance after ACL reconstruction would be comparable to prior levels of play in a series of National Hockey League (NHL) players.
Study design: Case series; Level of evidence, 4.
Methods: The NHL Injury Surveillance System (ISS) was utilized to identify all players with an ACL injury between 2006 and 2010. Medical staff members for all NHL teams were surveyed regarding these injuries. The medical staff completed a questionnaire for each injury, and statistics were analyzed using multiple analyses of variance to compare outcomes, performance, and the complication rate. A control group was identified and matched based on performance, career length before injury, age, height, and weight.
Results: There were 47 players identified by the NHL ISS. There were 3 goalies, 8 defensemen, and 36 wings or centers. The average age of these players was 27.69 years. The average length of time played after the injury was 2.8 years, which was less than that of the control group (4.4 years) (P = .004). The presence of a meniscal injury was associated with a decreased length of career compared with the control group (P = .012) and with patients with an isolated ACL injury (P = .002). For wings and centers, the number of games played decreased from 71.2 to 58.2 in the first full season after the injury (P = .05) and to 59.29 in the second season (P = .03). In the first season after the injury, for forwards and wings, assists and total points decreased from 20.3 and 35.2 to 13.8 (P = .005) and 25.9 (P = .018), respectively. In the second season after the injury, assists and goals decreased to 10.0 (P = .002) and 10.0 (P = .013), respectively. Compared with controls, the per-season averages of goals (P = .001), assists (P = .010), and total points (P = .004) decreased. Four players (8.5%) had subsequent failure of reconstruction, and there was a total reoperation rate of 20%. Five players (10.6%) did not return to play, and 4 (8.5%) were unable to return to play for a full season.
Conclusion: Most players are able to return to play in the NHL after an ACL injury. However, career length and performance may be significantly decreased compared with controls. This may represent a more severe initial injury, and more focused return-to-play pathways may identify barriers to return to play.
Keywords: anterior cruciate ligament; hockey; knee; ligament; sports.
© 2015 The Author(s).