NEW YORK - After knee reconstruction surgery, half of people who played sports competitively or just for fun don't perform as well as they used to, a new study suggests.
Of more than 300 Australian men and women who had the operation, a third stopped playing sports entirely and 68 who were still active said they didn't play as well as before, researchers found.
"This is a big injury," said Dr. Edward McDevitt, who was not part of the study.
"Many athletes who choose surgery have a long and difficult road to face. If you're not willing to go through it, then you might be better off just getting a brace," said McDevitt, a spokesman for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
The anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, is the ligament inside the knee that helps keep the joint stable. About 150,000 ACL injuries occur each year in the US
Researchers at La Trobe University in Victoria, Australia, followed more than 300 men and women for two to seven years. Participants had either played Australian-rules football, basketball, netball (a variation of basketball) or soccer before their surgeries.
At 39 months post-surgery, 208 out of the 314 people who had the operation were still playing a sport, the group reports in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.
Of those 208 people still playing, 68 said they played at a lower level than before their injury and 140 said they played about the same as before their injury. The remaining 106 participants either were not playing sports or did not complete the entire study.
"Although almost all people returned to playing some form of sport, they did not play continuously for many years after their surgery," Clare Ardern, who led the study, told Reuters Health in an email.
Ardern also noted there may be other reasons why people stopped playing sports, such as fear of getting injured again or less confidence in performing.
Out of the 196 people who played competitive sports before their injury, 91 returned to their competitive sport.
"Knee surgery does allow people to get back to their sport, but not as well as we'd like," McDevitt said.
People who tear the ACL can either opt for physical therapy and surgery or just physical therapy alone.
"Some people find that they are able to function well without surgery, provided they have adequate leg strength to support the injured knee," Ardern said.
"Other alternatives may be to avoid sports involving direction changes, jumping and landing or activities that make the knee feel unstable, or use knee braces and supports," she noted.
The cost for surgical repair of an ACL tear can range from $6,000 to $9,000. ACL surgery is often covered by health insurance since it's considered medically necessary, according to Healthcare Blue Book.
McDevitt speculates that after surgery, some athletes may not have the same range of motion, preventing them from playing as before.
"I tell my patients, 'I can't make you like before, I'm not God. But I'll do the best I can to restore you back to the way you were,'" McDevitt said.