The effectiveness of preoperative rehabilitation programmes on postoperative outcomes following anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction: a systematic review

BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2020 Oct 3;21(1):647. doi: 10.1186/s12891-020-03676-6.


Background: To explore the effectiveness of preoperative rehabilitation programmes (PreHab) on postoperative physical and psychological outcomes following anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction (ACLR).

Method: A systematic search was conducted from inception to November 2019. Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) published in English were included. Risk of bias was assessed using Version 2 of the Cochrane risk-of-bias tool, and the Grading of Recommendations Assessment system was used to evaluate the quality of evidence.

Results: The search identified 739 potentially eligible studies, three met the inclusion criteria. All included RCTs scored 'high' risk of bias. PreHab in all three RCTs was an exercise programme, each varied in content (strength, control, balance and perturbation training), frequency (10 to 24 sessions) and length (3.1- to 6-weeks). Statistically significant differences (p < 0.05) were reported for quadriceps strength (one RCT) and single leg hop scores (two RCTs) in favour of PreHab three months after ACLR, compared to no PreHab. One RCT reported no statistically significant between-group difference for pain and function. No RCT evaluated post-operative psychological outcomes.

Conclusion: Very low quality evidence suggests that PreHab that includes muscular strength, balance and perturbation training offers a small benefit to quadriceps strength and single leg hop scores three months after ACLR compared with no PreHab. There is no consensus on the optimum PreHab programme content, frequency and length. Further research is needed to develop PreHab programmes that consider psychosocial factors and the measurement of relevant post-operative outcomes such as psychological readiness and return to sport.

Trial registration: PROSPERO trial registration number. CRD42020162754 .

Keywords: Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL); Postoperative outcomes; Rehabilitation; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament / surgery
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries* / diagnosis
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries* / surgery
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction*
  • Humans
  • Preoperative Exercise
  • Return to Sport