Original Article| Volume 4, ISSUE 5, e1759-e1766, October 2022

Wide Variability in Return-to-Sport Criteria used by Team Physicians After Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction in Elite Athletes—A Qualitative Study

Open AccessPublished:August 15, 2022DOI:


      The purpose of this study is to explore currently used readiness to return to sport (RTS) criteria after anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction (ACLR) used in elite athletes to gain novel insights into the RTS decision-making process of professional team physicians.


      Eighteen qualitative semistructured interviews with professional team physicians were conducted by a single trained interviewer. The interviews were used to identify team physician concepts and themes regarding the criteria used to determine RTS after ACLR. General inductive analysis and a coding process were used to identify themes and subthemes arising from the data. A hierarchical approach in coding helped to link themes.


      The most important RTS criteria included muscle strength, followed by satisfactory functional testing including hop tests, a satisfactory clinical examination, joint stability, psychological readiness, time since the ACLR surgery, absence of joint effusion, subjective feeling of knee stability, pain-free return to sporting movements, completion of a sport-specific rehabilitation, and at last allied team support.


      This study identified 4 main themes, including (1) objective findings, (2) informative feedback of the team members, (3) subjective findings, and (4) type of sport and time to surgery as having the most influence on RTS decision after ACLR. However, interviews showed that even among professional team physicians, the main criteria to RTS in these categories were inconsistent. A definitive set of conclusive guidelines could not be established and would be a fruitful and useful area for future research through further quantitative studies and international consensus meetings along the foundation of the presenting study.

      Level of Evidence

      V, evidence-based practices, qualitative study.
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