Rates of Adverse Outcomes and Revision Surgery After Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction: A Study of 104,255 Procedures Using the National Hospital Episode Statistics Database for England, UK

Am J Sports Med. 2019 Sep;47(11):2533-2542. doi: 10.1177/0363546519861393. Epub 2019 Jul 26.


Background: After an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury, ACL reconstruction is an elective procedure, and therefore, an understanding of the attributable risk from undergoing ACL reconstruction is necessary for patients to make a fully informed treatment decision.

Purpose: To determine the absolute risk of adverse outcomes including reoperation after ACL reconstruction with comparison, where possible, to the rate of adverse events reported in the general population.

Study design: Descriptive epidemiology study.

Methods: National hospital data on all ACL reconstructions performed in England between April 1, 1997, and March 31, 2017, were analyzed. Revision cases, bilateral procedures within 6 months, and cases with concurrent cartilage or multiple ligament surgery were excluded. The primary outcome was the occurrence of at least 1 serious complication (myocardial infarction, stroke, pulmonary embolism, infection requiring surgery, fasciotomy, neurovascular injury, or death) within 90 days. Additionally, 5-year rates of revision ACL reconstruction, contralateral ACL reconstruction, and meniscal surgery were investigated.

Results: There were 133,270 ACL reconstructions performed, of which 104,255 were eligible for analysis. Within 90 days, serious complications occurred in 675 (0.65% [95% CI, 0.60-0.70]), including 494 reoperations for infections (0.47% [95% CI, 0.43-0.52]) and 129 for pulmonary embolism (0.12% [95% CI, 0.10-0.15]). Of 54,275 procedures with at least 5 years' follow-up, 1746 (3.22% [95% CI, 3.07-3.37]) underwent revision ACL reconstruction in the same knee, 1553 underwent contralateral ACL reconstruction (2.86% [95% CI, 2.72-3.01]), and 340 underwent meniscal surgery (0.63% [95% CI, 0.56-0.70]). The overall risk of serious complications fell over time (adjusted odds ratio [OR], 0.96 per year [95% CI, 0.95-0.98]); however, older patients (adjusted OR, 1.11 per 5 years [95% CI, 1.07-1.16]) and patients with a greater modified Charlson Comorbidity Index (adjusted OR, 2.41 per 10 units [95% CI, 1.65-3.51]) were at a higher risk. For every 850 (95% CI, 720-1039) ACL reconstructions, 1 pulmonary embolism could be provoked. For every 213 (95% CI, 195-233), 1 native knee joint infection could be provoked.

Conclusion: The overall risk of adverse events after ACL reconstruction is low; however, some rare but serious complications, including infections or pulmonary embolism, may occur. Around 3% of patients undergo further ipsilateral or contralateral ACL reconstruction within 5 years. These data will inform shared decision making between clinicians and patients considering their treatment options.

Keywords: ACL; adverse events; anterior cruciate ligament; complications; cruciate ligament; revision; risk.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction / adverse effects*
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction / statistics & numerical data
  • Cohort Studies
  • Databases, Factual
  • England / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology*
  • Postoperative Complications / etiology
  • Reoperation / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk Factors
  • Young Adult