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Unlocking Your ACL Recovery: Timing, Criteria, and Risks

Better Performance Physical Therapy has established a working relationship with several of the top local physicians to provide higher quality care following ACL reconstruction. While the majority of these physicians are on board with extensive return to sport testing prior to clearance, there are still many surgeons who rely predominantly on time based progressions. I believe heavily in a progression that is time AND criterion-based, dependent on soft tissue healing, patient demographics, clinician evaluation, and sport/positional demands. Returning to sport early following ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) reconstruction surgery carries both benefits and risks.

Here are some insights into the risks if you return to sport too quickly following ACL reconstruction:

1. Reinjury: One of the primary risks is reinjuring the reconstructed ACL or injuring other structures in the knee. Returning too early can place excessive stress on the graft or the healing tissues, increasing the risk of a retear.

2. Graft healing: The graft used to replace the torn ACL needs time to heal and integrate with the surrounding tissues. Premature return to sports can disrupt this healing process, leading to graft failure.

3. Muscle strength and proprioception deficits: After surgery, it takes time to regain full strength and proprioception in the injured leg. Returning too early can lead to muscle imbalances and decreased joint stability, increasing the risk of further injury.

4. Reduced performance: Athletes who return too early may not perform at their best due to physical limitations and fear of reinjury, potentially affecting their team and personal performance.

5. Psychological factors: The fear of reinjury can impact an athlete's confidence and psychological well-being, affecting their overall performance.

To mitigate these risks, it's crucial to follow a well-structured rehabilitation program prescribed by a qualified physical therapist or sports medicine specialist. The decision to return to sport should be based on objective criteria, including muscle strength, range of motion, functional testing, and sport specific testing, rather than a fixed timeline. Additionally, we must consider an athletes individual goals and the demands of their sport before deciding to return to play.

Consulting with a healthcare professional experienced in ACL injuries is essential to make an informed decision about the timing of return to sport.

If you have any questions on how we navigate this process, please feel free to reach out!

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