You’re in luck with youth ACL injuries

A football academy at a Paris suburb hold training for disadvantaged youths while making sure social distancing measures are in place, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Paris, France, May 22, 2020. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

In 2021 the world will celebrate St. Patrick’s day a little differently. Because of the ongoing pandemic, parades and parties are cancelled. However, you’re still in luck! We’re sharing with you a research review usually only reserved for subscribers. This research review included in the March issue followed elite youth soccer players after an ACL injury and monitored their return to sport and future sports participation. The March issue is dedicated to youth sports injuries. It’s packed with helpful information for clinicians who treat youth or design injury prevention programs for younger athletes. To have Sports Injury Bulletin delivered to your inbox and obtain access to our entire library of content online, subscribe today! 

Paper TitleCan Talented Youth Soccer Players Who Have Undergone Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction Reach the Elite Level?

Publication: The American Journal of Sports Medicine 2021;49(2):384–390 DOI: 10.1177/0363546520976651 PMID: 33332148

Publication Date:  Dec 17, 2020


The chances of becoming a professional athlete are slim for anyone regardless of medical history. For a young athlete, an ACL tear may seem like a serious obstacle in the road to becoming a professional player, yet a recent study from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden shows that youth soccer players who suffer an ACL tear and undergo surgical reconstruction are able to become elite players at the same rate as uninjured young athletes.


The study investigated the history of 5,285 soccer players (2,631 boys and 2,654 girls) who participated 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). SNKLR is a database containing information on 90% of all ACL repairs performed in Sweden since 2005. FOGIS is a database that tracks information on player’s demographics and their level of play. Statistical analysis examined if suffering an ACL injury and receiving reconstruction as a youth player determined whether the player played in the first or second division at 21 years of age. The scientists also analyzed additional data, such as age at ACL reconstruction, home districts, and date of birth.


Around 9.9% of players playing at the Swedish National Elite Camp between 2005 and 2011 had ACL reconstruction surgeries registered in SNKLR. Out of those players, 23% had a revision or a contralateral reconstruction. As in line with previous literature, female players suffered twice as many ACL tears as 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. Players who played for elite youth clubs at the age of 15 were more likely to play at an elite level at 21 than players who did not. It was also shown that players that lived in larger districts at 15 were more likely to play at an elite level at 21 than those who were from smaller districts.

According to the data shown in the study, 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. Although the chances are small, ACL reconstruction and recovery should not deter a young athlete from following their dreams of reaching the highest level.

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