Existing literature is varied in the methods used to make this determination in the treatment of athletes who have undergone recent anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction. Some authors report using primarily time-based criteria, while others advocate for physical measures and kinematic testing to inform decision-making. The goal of this paper is to elucidate the most current medical evidence regarding identification of the earliest point at which a patient may safely return to sport. The present review therefore seeks to examine the evidence from a critical perspective-breaking down the biology of graft maturation, effect of graft choice, potential for image-guided monitoring of progression and results associated with time-based versus functional criteria-based return to play-to justify a multifactorial approach to effectively advance athletes to return to sport. The findings of the present study reaffirm that time is a prerequisite for the biological progression that must occur for a reconstructed ligament to withstand loads demanded by athletes during sport. Modifications of surgical techniques and graft selection may positively impact the rate of graft maturation, and evidence suggests that imaging studies may offer informative data to enhance monitoring of this process. Aspects of both functional and cognitive testing have also demonstrated utility in prior studies and consequently have been factored into modern proposed methods of determining the athlete's readiness for sport. Further work is needed to definitively determine the optimal method of clearing an athlete to return to sport after ACL reconstruction. Evidence to date strongly suggests a role of a multimodal algorithmic approach that factors in time, graft biology and functional testing in return-to-play decision-making after ACL reconstruction.Level of evidence: level V.
View details for DOI 10.1136/jisakos-2020-000597
View details for PubMedID 34088854