Young athletes benefit from an extended break from sport after surgical reconstruction of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). New research suggests that those who return to sport relatively soon after surgery have a much higher risk of a second ACL injury.
The ACL is one of the key ligaments that help stabilise the knee joint. ACL injuries are common in sports such as skiing, tennis, squash, football and rugby.
Surgery is often necessary to restore stability and proper functioning of the knee and to help athletes return to sport. However, after surgery it's important not to rush back to full training.
"What's absolutely essential is to let the rehab take time. Every month's wait represents a huge gain," explained Susanne Beischer, PhD student at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, who works as a clinical physical therapist.
In her research, Beischer focused on adolescents' and young adults' return to sport after surgery.
She found that up to 30% had suffered a second ACL injury, in the same or the other knee, shortly after returning to their sport. However, there were major differences depending on how long the athletes had spent away from playing.
Among those who had returned to sport within nine months of ACL surgery, nearly a third (10 of 33 individuals) were injured again. Among those who waited nine months or more, the proportion suffering a new injury was considerably lower (8 of 126).
Beischer believes that young athletes, especially those under the age of 20, should extend their rehabilitation to at least nine months -- preferably a year or more -- and ensure that their strength and jumping capacity are restored before they return to sport.