Jan 29, 2015
Study Supports Accelerated ACL Rehab

abbyfunk-head.jpgBy Abigail Funk

As the debate over how long an athlete should wait before returning to play after undergoing ACL reconstruction surgery continues, evidence has surfaced supporting an accelerated rehab approach. Two physicians from the Shelbourne Knee Center at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, IN, presented their findings at the 2009 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) in Las Vegas this past week.
The study, completed by orthopedic surgeons Donald Shelbourne, MD, and Scott Urch, MD, followed over 400 high school student-athletes who underwent ACL reconstruction surgery when they were 17-years-old or younger. The physicians found that 40 percent of the patients returned to their sport at full capacity within four months, and another 35 percent bounced back within six months. Just 25 percent of the patients took longer than six months to return to play at full capacity.

Ten years ago, an ACL tear was the kiss of death for athletes as the injury typically put them out of commission for at least a year and possibly ended their career. But over the past decade, surgeons and rehab specialists have come up with new techniques for more accelerated approaches. While the most recent, widely held belief for recovery time after reconstruction is six months, the Shelbourne Knee Center has seen patients make full recoveries in as little as eight weeks.

The study’s two physicians stressed that it is important to focus on the teenage group because these athletes are generally active year-round, and want to get back to their athletic lives as soon as possible. Shelbourne and Urch found there was no difference between males and females in the time it took their patients to return to play.

A main point of concern for those wary of an accelerated ACL rehab approach is a higher risk of re-injury for athletes who return to play without a completely healed ligament. Shelbourne and Urch counter that in their study, athletes who returned to play earlier than their counterparts did not have a higher incidence of re-injury. And 20 percent of the study participants eventually went on to play at the collegiate level.

The physicians say this is a good indicator that their accelerated approach methods aren’t a hindrance later on since only three to five percent of high school athletes continue to play in college.

The debate will surely continue, but at least the medical community now has some numbers from this study to refer to. For more information, see the links below.

T&C talked to Donald Shelbourne in this 2007 article, which looks at traditional vs. accelerated ACL rehab routes. Click here to read it.

For more information about the Shelbourne Knee Center at Methodist Hospital, click here.

To read T&C‘s latest article on ACL research and new prevention programs, click here.

Abigail Funk is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning.

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