To describe the criteria used to clear athletes to return to sport (RTS) following primary ACL reconstruction.
MEDLINE, Embase, CINAHL and SPORTDiscus electronic databases were searched using keywords related to ACL and RTS.
Prospective or retrospective studies reporting at least one RTS criterion for athletes who had primary ACL reconstruction with an autograft.
In total, 209 studies fulfilled the inclusion criteria. RTS criteria were categorised into six domains: time, strength, hop testing, clinical examination, patient-report and performance-based criteria. From the 209 included studies, time was used in 178 studies (85%), and in 88 studies (42%) was the sole RTS criterion. Strength tests were reported in 86 studies (41%). Sixteen different hop tests were used in 31 studies (15%). Clinical examination was used in 54 studies (26%), patient report in 26 studies (12%) and performance-based criteria in 41 studies (20%).
Time and impairment-based measures dominated RTS criteria, despite sport being a complex physical and biopsychosocial activity with demands across all aspects of function. Time was included as a criterion in 85% of studies, and over 80% of studies allowed RTS before 9 months. Whether RTS tests are valid—do they predict successful RTS?—is largely unknown.