Achieving preinjury levels of athletic performance has been challenging for elite athletes after anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction. Although a recent study found that 77% of Australian Football League (AFL) players who underwent ACL reconstruction from 1999 to 2013 returned to play at the highest level, the study did not indicate how consistently or well they were able to play.
To identify the number of AFL players who returned to play consistently over 2 seasons after ACL reconstruction, compare their playing performance in these seasons with preinjury performance, and evaluate factors associated with returning to preinjury levels of performance.
Case series; Level of evidence, 4.
Analysis included 104 AFL players who underwent ACL reconstruction between 1999 and 2013. All had played at least 10 AFL matches in 1 season before ACL injury. Ranking points, as devised by AFL statisticians, were used to measure individual playing performance.
Of the 104 players who played at least 10 matches in 1 season before ACL injury, 53 (51%) returned to play at least 10 matches in 2 seasons after surgery. Of these 53 players, 36 (68%) returned to their preinjury levels of performance. The 17 remaining players who did not return to their preinjury performance still performed comparably to the AFL average level after surgery. Players <25 years old (odds ratio = 2.9, P = .01) or <90 kg (odds ratio = 2.7, P = .03) had greater odds of returning to their preinjury levels of performance.
Returning to play on a consistent basis was a substantial challenge for AFL players after ACL reconstruction. However, among players who did return to play consistently over 2 seasons, their postsurgery average performance was comparable with the AFL average level of performance, and two-thirds returned to their preinjury levels of performance. Younger and lighter players were more likely to return to their preinjury levels of performance, possibly given the nature of AFL club playing list management decisions.