Primary surgery versus primary rehabilitation for treating anterior cruciate ligament injuries: a living systematic review and meta-analysis.

Saueressig T, Braun T, Steglich N, et al. British Journal of Sports Medicine Published Online First: 29 August 2022. 

Objective Compare the effectiveness of primarily surgical versus primarily rehabilitative management for anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) rupture.
Design Living systematic review and meta-analysis. Data sources Six databases, six trial registries and prior systematic reviews. Forward and backward citation tracking was employed.
Eligibility criteria Randomised controlled trials that compared primary reconstructive surgery and primary rehabilitative treatment with or without optional reconstructive surgery.
Data synthesis Bayesian random effects meta-analysis with empirical priors for the OR and standardised mean difference and 95% credible intervals (CrI), Cochrane RoB2, and the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation approach to judge the certainty of evidence.
Results Of 9514 records, 9 reports of three studies (320 participants in total) were included. No clinically important differences were observed at any follow-up for self-reported knee function (low to very low certainty of evidence). For radiological knee osteoarthritis, we found no effect at very low certainty of evidence in the long term (OR (95% CrI): 1.45 (0.30 to 5.17), two studies). Meniscal damage showed no effect at low certainty of evidence (OR: 0.85 (95% CI 0.45 to 1.62); one study) in the long term. No differences were observed between treatments for any other secondary outcome. Three ongoing randomised controlled trials were identified.

Conclusions There is low to very low certainty of evidence that primary rehabilitation with optional surgical reconstruction results in similar outcome measures as early surgical reconstruction for ACL rupture. The findings challenge a historical paradigm that anatomic instability should be addressed with primary surgical stabilisation to provide optimal outcomes.