A new study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina (UNC) School of Medicine reveals that a majority of college athletes have been able to return to play after having knee surgery to repair an injury to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). The study also showed that athletes who had this surgery when in high school, or younger, were more likely to endure repeat ACL re-injuries than athletes who had their first ACL injury during college play. The research team performed a retrospective medical chart review of all UNC athletes who had ACL surgery from 2000 to 2009.

A total of 89 male and female athletes from several varsity-level sports were included, with 35 having had ACL reconstruction as precollegiates and 54 having had ACL surgery during college. The results of the study indicate that the return to play rates were almost identical; specifically, the precollegiate group used 78% of their total playing eligibility after injury while athletes in the intracollegiate group used 77%, according to a UNC School of Medicine news release. In addition, 88.3% of those in the intracollegiate group played an additional non-redshirt year after their injury.

In regards to re-injury and reoperation rates, however, the two groups were different. The precollegiate group had a 17.1% injury rate with their original ACL surgery with a 20% rate of an ACL injury in the other knee, compared to 1.9% and 11% for the collegiate group, as indicated on the UNC School of Medicine news release. Also, the reoperation rate for the precollegiate was 51.4%, which was more than twice the reoperation rate in the collegiate group at 20.4%.

Ganesh M.V. Kamath, MD, lead author of the study, says, “It’s very clear from our data that the younger the elite athlete, the higher risk for reinjury.” Kamath adds, “This is the next necessary area of focused research in ACL surgery. We know that the vast majority of people do well, but unfortunately there are a select few, oftentimes, the best athletes who go on to reinjure themselves and require a second surgery.”

Source: University of North Carolina School of Medicine