Excellent outcomes have been reported for anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction (ACLR) in professional athletes in a number of different sports. However, no study has directly compared these outcomes between sports.
To determine if differences in performance-based outcomes exist after ACLR between professional athletes of each sport.
Cohort study; Level of evidence, 3.
National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA), National Hockey League (NHL), and Major League Baseball (MLB) athletes undergoing primary ACLR for an acute rupture were identified through an established protocol of injury reports and public archives. Sport-specific performance statistics were collected before and after surgery for each athlete. Return to play (RTP) was defined as a successful return to the active roster for at least 1 regular-season game after ACLR.
Of 344 professional athletes who met the inclusion criteria, a total of 298 (86.6%) returned to play. NHL players had a significantly higher rate of RTP (95.8% vs 83.4%, respectively; P = .04) and a shorter recovery time (258 6 110 days vs 367 6 268 days, respectively; P \ .001) than athletes in all the other sports. NFL athletes experienced significantly shorter careers postoperatively than players in all the other sports (2.1 vs 3.2 years, respectively; P \ .001). All athletes played fewer games (P .02) 1 season postoperatively, while those in the NFL had the lowest rate of active players 2 and 3 seasons postoperatively (60%; P = .002). NBA and NFL players showed decreased performance at season 1 after ACLR (P .001). NFL players continued to have lower performance at seasons 2 and 3 (P = .002), while NBA players recovered to baseline performance.
The data indicate that NFL athletes fare the worst after ACLR with the lowest survival rate, shortest postoperative career length, and sustained decreases in performance. NHL athletes fare the best with the highest rates of RTP, highest survival rates, longest postoperative career lengths, and no significant changes in performance. The unique physical demand that each sport requires is likely one of the explanations for these differences in outcomes.