Why is this topic so important to me? It’s because I’ve personally been through this process. Twice. And it’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my life.
Successful return to sport after anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction requires optimal physical AND psychological recovery. The psychological component is quite often overlooked. Fear, emotion, and poor self-esteem can have profound effects on patients' compliance, athletic identity, and readiness to return to sport.
An athlete can be physically prepared for return to sport, but if there is fear or anxiety associated, then this process should be prolonged. If you’re a clinician, parent, or athlete reading this, here are four key areas to consider:
1. Psychological Distress:
This is where education and setting the expectations is huge. When working with an athlete, it’s important to consider this as a part of rehab. Who wouldn’t have anxiety or emotions when they can no longer play their sport and get their knee operated on. It’s completely normal. Rather than hiding it, have a conversation with your athlete. Educate them on what to expect before, during and after the procedure and for rehab. Assure them that everything will be okay and that they will get back to their sport. When an athlete knows what to expect, there’s less psychological distress associated with the process, which can significantly impact the success of the rehab and return-to-play process.
3. Locus of Control:
4. Athletic Identity:
In addition to the 4 areas above, an objective measure can be very beneficial to quantify where the athlete stands from not only a physical perspective, but psychological. That’s where the ACL-Return to Sport after Injury scale (ACL-RSI) can be helpful. The ACL-RSI is a great outcome measures to assess athletes' emotions, confidence in performance, and risk appraisal in relation to return to sport.
Recognizing positive and negative psychological responses to injury is the first step in initiating treatment and potentially modifying beliefs through psychological interventions. It is important to identify patients who are at risk for poor outcomes because targeted psychological interventions may be successful. If you know of an athlete going through this injury and recovery process, don’t forget that there’s more to it than just what you can see.
Dr. Ravi, DPT
- Christino MA, Fantry AJ, Vopat BG. Psychological Aspects of Recovery Following Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction. J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2015;23(8):501-9.
- Sadeqi M, Klouche S, Bohu Y, Herman S, Lefevre N, Gerometta A. Progression of the Psychological ACL-RSI Score and Return to Sport After Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction: A Prospective 2-Year Follow-up Study From the French Prospective Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction Cohort Study (FAST). Orthop J Sports Med. 2018;6(12):2325967118812819.
- Ardern CL. Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction-Not Exactly a One-Way Ticket Back to the Preinjury Level: A Review of Contextual Factors Affecting Return to Sport After Surgery. Sports Health. 2015;7(3):224-30.
-Schub D, Saluan P: Anterior cruciate ligament injuries in the young athlete: Evaluation and treatment. Sports Med Arthrosc 2011;19(1):34-43. Melissa A. Christino, MD, et al
Dr. Danny and Dr. Jackie's views on performance improvement, injury prevention and sometimes other random thoughts.