Primary repair of the anterior cruciate ligament: A paradigm shift

Surgeon. 2017 Jun;15(3):161-168. doi: 10.1016/j.surge.2016.09.006. Epub 2016 Oct 6.


Over the last century, many surgical treatments have been developed in the orthopedic field, including treatments of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries. These treatments ideally evolve in a process of trial and error with prospective comparison of new treatments to the current treatment standard. However, these evolutions are sometimes not linear and periodically undergo paradigm shifts. In this article, we review the evolution of ACL treatment and explain how it underwent a paradigm shift. Open primary ACL repair was the most common treatment in the 1970s and 1980s, but because multiple studies noted deterioration of outcomes at mid-term follow-up, in addition to several randomized clinical trials (RCTs) that noted better outcomes following ACL reconstruction, the open primary repair technique was abandoned. At the end of the primary repair era, however, several studies showed that outcomes of open primary repair were good to excellent and did not deteriorate when this technique was selectively performed in patients with proximal ACL tears, whereas primary repair led to disappointing and unpredictable results in patients with mid-substance tears. Unfortunately, enrollment of patients in the aforementioned RCTs was already finished, ultimately leading to abandoning of open primary repair, despite the advantages of ligament preservation. In this review, we discuss (I) why the evolution of ACL treatment underwent a paradigm shift, (II) which factors may have played a role in this and (III) what the future role of arthroscopic primary ACL repair is in the evolution of ACL treatments.

Keywords: Anterior cruciate ligament; Injury; Reconstruction; Repair; Sports.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament / surgery*
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries / surgery*
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction / methods*
  • Arthroscopy / methods*
  • Humans