Athletic performance after ACL surgery

Can you run as fast or jump as high after undergoing ACL reconstruction as you did before you got hurt?

We know that a good percentage of athletes return to play sports after tearing their ACLs. It might require months of rehab and a lot of effort Swollen kneeon the part of the patient. They might battle a fear of reinjury. They might notice the knee doesn’t feel normal. And it can often take 9 to 12 months or more before they return to the sport or exercise they love.

Many athletic patients, though, don’t just want to return to play. They want to have the same speed, power and strength. How realistic is that goal?

Also read:
Ask Dr. Geier – When can you return to sports after ACL surgery?
Patient outcomes 20 years after ACL surgery
Physical performance after ACL reconstruction

A new study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine aimed to answer that question, at least in football. Researchers looked at 98 athletes who had a history of ACL reconstruction evaluated at the NFL Combine. They used various tests of athletic performance to compare athletes who had previously undergone ACL surgery to players of the same age, size and position who hadn’t.

The authors found that the ACL athletes had almost identical performance measures compared to the other athletes in five athletic performance tests:

  • 40-yard dash
  • Vertical leap
  • Broad jump
  • Shuttle drill
  • 3-cone drill

Also read:
Risk for retearing the ACL or tearing the opposite one
Athletes who haven’t returned to sports 1 year after ACL surgery

Take home point

This study does not offer insight into the best surgical techniques or graft options for ACL reconstruction. But it does offer perspective for Knee brace ACLathletes looking to return to play at a high level. Whether you play soccer, basketball, volleyball or any other competitive sport, you might have a good chance of regaining your physical abilities and return to play at the same level or better than you were before you got injured.

Keller RA, Mehran N, Austin W, Marshall NE, Bastin K, Moutzouros V. Athletic Performance at the NFL Scouting Combine After Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction. Am J Sports Med. Published online Oct 22, 2015.

Also read:
Rehabilitation factors that might influence outcomes from ACL surgery
6 questions that could reveal psychological issues after ACL surgery

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david-headshot I am an orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist in Charleston, South Carolina.

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