Getting Back to Sport Takes Time

One of the most asked questions after an ACL reconstruction is “when can I get back to playing?” This is one of the toughest answers as a clinician to answer. An ACL reconstruction and recovery is an extensive process. The most consistent timeframe that we are comfortable returning someone to full contact sport is 9-12 months. This timeframe depends on a number of factors and is not solely reliant on time. There can be some that return sooner or longer, but understanding that each person is different and that not all ACL recoveries are the same is important. We are going to discuss why it’s important to have an individualized program tailored to you to make the right decisions for when you return to sport. 

Science Behind Return to Sport

What we know from a scientific standpoint is that we have to respect tissue healing time frames or else we will return to sport too soon. Returning to sports without data and specific testing can increase the chance of complications down the road. Each graft option is part of a tendon that is made into a graft. The ACL is a ligament and has a different cellular makeup compared to a tendon . The tendon graft chosen has to go through a period of “ligamentization.” Ligamentization is a process to improve the strength of your new ACL. This process has been shown to take over a year to get to strength levels similar to an uninjured ACL. Unfortunately, we have no accurate way of knowing when this process is complete, but we utilize 9-12 months as a comfortable time to return to sport.

Why Does Testing Matter?

We need to ensure an athlete is prepared to handle the demands of full athletic participation with lower extremity strength. This requires testing to determine if strength is roughly within 90-100% of the uninvolved limb. It takes time for muscles to grow, adapt and get stronger, especially after a significant surgery. We need to make sure your affected leg can absorb high-level forces. These forces are things like cutting, jumping and changing direction. Individualized return to sport testing that takes into consideration the demands of  sport, strength in your knee and the time elapsed since your surgery is important. This will ensure you have the most success after you return to sport. As an athlete you will have more confidence and reduce the risk of complications! We utilize a battery of tests to determine how far a long a person is in their recovery. One of the tests we use is the T drill shown below. Without data and comprehensive testing, it would be unfair to our clients and athletes to make a proper decision on when they can return to sport. 

Summary

Being able to fully return to sport without limitations is the best part of any rehabilitation. As an athlete you need to be able to pass individualized criteria regarding strength, demands of sport, cutting and jumping to comfortably get back to playing. We also need to respect time and tissue healing to have a successful outcome.  If you feel you are not getting this during your ACL rehabilitation please reach out to us. Keeping the body healthy both now and in the future is crucial for long term success. Send us a message below if you have any questions about your recovery!