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Return to Play and Pattern of Injury After ACL Rupture in a Consecutive Series of Elite UEFA Soccer Players.

BACKGROUND: Anterior cruciate ligament rupture represents a career-threatening injury for professional soccer players.

PURPOSE: To analyze the pattern of injury, return to play (RTP), and performance of a consecutive series of elite professional soccer players after anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction (ACLR).

STUDY DESIGN: Case series; Level of evidence, 4.

METHODS: We evaluated the medical records of 40 consecutive elite soccer players who underwent ACLR by a single surgeon between September 2018 and May 2022. Patient age, height, weight, body mass index, position, injury history, affected side, RTP time, minutes played per season (MPS), and MPS as a percentage of playable minutes before and after ACLR were retrieved from medical records and from publicly available media-based platforms.

RESULTS: Included were 27 male patients (mean ± SD age at surgery, 23.2 ± 4.3 years; range, 18-34 years). The injury occurred during matches in 24 players (88.9%), with a noncontact mechanism in 22 (91.7%). Meniscal pathology was found in 21 patients (77.8%). Lateral meniscectomy and meniscal repair were performed in 2 (7.4%) and 14 (51.9%) patients, respectively, and medial meniscectomy and meniscal repair were performed in 3 (11.1%) and 13 (48.1%) patients, respectively. A total of 17 players (63.0%) underwent ACLR with bone-patellar tendon-bone autograft and 10 (37.0%) with soft tissue quadriceps tendon. Lateral extra-articular tenodesis was added in 5 patients (18.5%). The overall RTP rate was 92.6% (25 of 27). Two athletes moved to a lower league after surgery. The mean MPS% during the last preinjury season was 56.69% ± 21.71%; this decreased significantly to 29.18% ± 20.6% ( P < .001) in the first postoperative season and then increased to 57.76% ± 22.89% and 55.89% ± 25.8% in the second and third postoperative seasons. Two (7.4%) reruptures and 2 (7.4%) failed meniscal repairs were reported.

CONCLUSION: ACLR in elite UEFA soccer players was associated with a 92.6% rate of RTP and 7.4% rate of reinjury within 6 months after primary surgery. Moreover, 7.4% of soccer players moved to a lower league during the first season after surgery. Age, graft selection, concomitant treatments, and lateral extra-articular tenodesis were not significantly associated with prolonged RTP.

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