Professional Athletes Are at Higher Risk of Septic Arthritis After Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction: An Analysis of 4421 Consecutive Patients Including 265 Elite Athletes From the SANTI Study Group

Am J Sports Med. 2019 Oct;47(12):2910-2918. doi: 10.1177/0363546519869326. Epub 2019 Aug 28.


Background: Professional athletes are reported to be at greater risk of septic arthritis (SA) after anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction (ACLR) than the nonprofessional population. However, this finding has been controversial, and confusion has arisen in the literature owing to the underpowering of previous studies.

Purpose/hypothesis: The purpose was to report the differences in the rate of SA after ACLR in a large series of patients and to perform pooled data analysis including previously published studies. The hypothesis was that professional athletes have a significantly higher risk of SA than nonprofessional athletes.

Study design: Case-control study; Level of evidence, 3.

Methods: A retrospective analysis of prospectively collected data was performed. Patients who underwent ACLR between January 2009 and July 2017 (with a minimum follow-up of 12 months) were considered for study eligibility. The rate of SA was determined, and multivariate analysis was used to evaluate potentially important risk factors, including participation in professional sport. Furthermore, a literature search was performed, and data were extracted from all identified relevant studies. A pooled data analysis was performed to determine differences in the risk of SA between professional and nonprofessional populations.

Results: The current series comprised 4421 anterior cruciate ligament surgical procedures with 265 professional athletes. There were 15 cases of SA diagnosed over the study period (0.34%; 95% CI, 0.19%-0.56%). Ten cases occurred in professional athletes (3.8%; 95% CI, 1.82%-6.83%). The percentage of SA was 0.12% (95% CI, 0.04%-0.28%) in the nonprofessional population. Being a professional athlete was associated with a significantly increased risk of SA after ACLR (odds ratio, 21.038; 95% CI, 6.585-75.789; P < .0001). This finding was confirmed in the pooled data analysis comprising 11,416 patients including 1118 professional athletes (odds ratio, 5.03; 95% CI, 1.17-21.61).

Conclusion: Professional athletes are at greater risk of SA after ACLR than nonprofessional athletes. The results of previous studies may have been conflicting owing to underpowering. The current study confirms the elevated risk by using a large clinical series and pooled data analysis to avoid the limitations of previous studies.

Keywords: anterior cruciate ligament; pooled analysis; professional athletes; septic arthritis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries / surgery*
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction / adverse effects*
  • Arthritis, Infectious / etiology*
  • Athletic Injuries / surgery*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Odds Ratio
  • Postoperative Complications
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Young Adult