Regardless of having a serious injury or not, it’s extremely difficult becoming a professional athlete in a chosen sport. An ACL tear for the young athlete may seem like a massive hurdle to becoming a professional player. However, a recent study from Sweden shows that youth soccer players who suffer an ACL tear and undergo surgical reconstruction are still able to become elite players at the same rate as uninjured young athletes.
The study looked at the history of 5,285 soccer players (2,631 boys and 2,654 girls) who partook in the Swedish National Elite Camp between 2005 and 2011. Researchers obtained subjects’ ACL surgical history from the Swedish National Knee Ligament Registry (SNKLR) and sporting history from the Swedish Football Association’s (FA) administrative data system (FOGIS). The SNKLR is a database that contains information on 90% of all ACL repairs in Sweden since 2005. FOGIS is another database that tracks information on player’s demographics and their level of play. The scientists examined to see if suffering an ACL injury and receiving reconstruction as a youth player determined whether the individual played in the first or second division at 21 years of age.
A total of 9.9% of players that played in the Swedish National Elite Camp between 2005 and 2011 had undergone ACL reconstruction surgeries that were registered in SNKLR. Out of these players, 23% reinjured their ACL or had a contralateral reconstruction. In line with previous papers, female players suffered twice as many ACL tears compared to male players.
According to FOGIS, 10.8% of players participating in the Swedish National Elite Camps between 2005 and 2011 were playing in the first or second division of Swedish Soccer at 21 years of age.
After comparing the databases, the researchers found no statistically significant effect of suffering an ACL injury and repair on the chances of playing at an elite level at the age of 21. Birthdates later in the year showed an increased chance of making it to an elite level in male players.
It’s evident to see from the study that ACL reconstruction is effective in restoring knee function and allows for youth players to have the same chance to reach an elite level that their uninjured teammates. So having an ACL reconstruction should not deter a young athlete from following their passion of reaching the top level of their desired sport.
Publication: The American Journal of Sports Medicine 2021;49(2):384–390 DOI: 10.1177/0363546520976651 PMID: 33332148