Background: A recently published Dutch practice guideline emphasizes criterion-based rehabilitation after anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction (ACLR) instead of time-based. As a consequence of this criterion-based rehabilitation, return to play is only suggested when athletes meet specific return to play (RTP) criteria.
Purpose: The goal of this prospective observational study was to analyze if physical therapists adhere to ACLR practice guideline RTP criteria for testing and return to sport decisions, and to explore whether there is a difference in adherence between physical therapists specialized in sports versus those who are not.
Methods: When the treating physical therapist cleared an athlete for RTP after ACLR, the primary researcher performed RTP measurements according to the ACLR practice guideline to investigate if all nine quantitative and qualitative RTP criteria were met.
Results: Of the 158 athletes (54 females and 104 males, mean age 24 ± 6 years, 12 ± 3 months after surgery), 69 (44%) had performed the RTP measurements with their primary physical therapist. Of the athletes tested by their primary physical therapist 23% met all RTP criteria compared to 10% of the athletes who were not tested at all by their primary physical therapist (p = 0.026). Of the athletes rehabilitating with a sports physical therapist, 52% had been tested by their primary physical therapist compared to 34% of the athletes rehabilitating with a non-sports physical therapist (p = 0.024).
Conclusion: Only 44% of the athletes were tested according to the guideline RTP criteria and only 23% of them were given an RTP advice consistent with the ACLR guideline. Although sports physical therapists adhered to the guideline more often than non-sports physical therapists, the adherence is still alarmingly low. More attention for the implementation of ACLR guidelines and RTP criteria is needed.
Level of evidence: Therapy, level 2b.
Keywords: anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction; guideline; return to play; sports physical therapist.
© 2020 by the Sports Physical Therapy Section.