Evidence of ACL healing on MRI following ACL rupture treated with rehabilitation alone may be associated with better patient-reported outcomes: a secondary analysis from the KANON trial

Br J Sports Med. 2023 Jan;57(2):91-98. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2022-105473. Epub 2022 Nov 3.


Objectives: Evaluate the natural course of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) healing on MRI within 5 years of acute ACL rupture and compare 2-year and 5-year outcomes based on healing status and treatment group.

Methods: Secondary analysis of 120 Knee Anterior Cruciate Ligament Nonsurgical vs Surgical Treatment (KANON) trial participants randomised to rehabilitation and optional delayed ACL reconstruction (ACLR) or early ACLR and rehabilitation. ACL continuity on MRI (Anterior Cruciate Ligament OsteoArthritis Score 0-2) was considered evidence of ACL healing. Outcomes included Knee Injury and Osteoarthritis Outcome Score (KOOS), KOOS patient acceptable symptomatic state (PASS) and treatment failure criteria. Linear mixed models were used to estimate adjusted mean differences (95% CIs) in patient-reported sport and recreational function (KOOS-Sport/Rec) and quality of life (KOOS-QOL) at 2 and 5 years, between participants with MRI evidence of ACL healing and those who had (1) no evidence of ACL healing, (2) delayed ACLR or (3) early ACLR.

Results: MRI evidence of ACL healing at 2-year follow-up was observed in 16 of 54 (30%, 95% CI 19 to 43%) participants randomised to optional delayed ACLR. Excluding participants who had delayed ACLR, 16 of 30 (53%, 36-70%) participants managed with rehabilitation-alone displayed MRI evidence of ACL healing. Two-year outcomes were better in the healed ACL group (n=16) compared with the non-healed (n=14) (mean difference (95% CI) KOOS-Sport/Rec: 25.1 (8.6-41.5); KOOS-QOL: 27.5 (13.2-41.8)), delayed ACLR (n=24) (KOOS-Sport/Rec: 24.9 (10.2-39.6); KOOS-QOL: 18.1 (5.4-30.8)) and early ACLR (n=62) (KOOS-Sport/Rec: 17.4 (4.1-30.7); KOOS-QOL: 11.4 (0.0-22.9)) groups. Five-year KOOS-QOL was better in the healed versus non-healed group (25.3 (9.4-41.2)). Of participants with MRI evidence of ACL healing, 63-94% met the PASS criteria for each KOOS subscale, compared with 29-61% in the non-healed or reconstructed groups.

Conclusions: MRI appearance of ACL healing after ACL rupture occurred in one in three adults randomised to initial rehabilitation and one in two who did not cross-over to delayed ACLR and was associated with favourable outcomes. The potential for spontaneous healing of the ACL to facilitate better clinical outcomes may be greater than previously considered.

Trial registration number: ISRCTN84752559.

Keywords: Magnetic Resonance Imaging; anterior cruciate ligament; osteoarthritis; quality of life; rehabilitation.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament / surgery
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries* / diagnostic imaging
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries* / surgery
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Osteoarthritis*
  • Patient Reported Outcome Measures
  • Quality of Life