Background: An anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) rupture has major consequences at midterm follow-up, with an increasing chance of developing an old knee in a young patient. The long-term (≥20 years) effects of the operative and nonoperative treatment of ACL ruptures are still unclear.
Purpose: To compare the long-term treatment outcomes of operative versus nonoperative treatment of ACL ruptures in high-level athletes.
Study Design: Cohort study; Level of evidence, 2.
Methods: Fifty patients with an ACL rupture were eligible for participation, and they were treated either nonoperatively (n = 25) in 1992, consisting of structured rehabilitation and lifestyle adjustments, or operatively (n = 25) between 1994 and 1996 with an arthroscopic transtibial bone–patellar tendon–bone technique. The patients in the nonoperative group were drawn from those who responded well to 3 months of nonoperative treatment, whereas the patients in the operative group were drawn from those who had persistent instability after 3 months of nonoperative treatment. Both groups were pair-matched and assessed at 10- and 20-year follow-up regarding radiological knee osteoarthritis, functional outcomes (Lysholm, International Knee Documentation Committee [IKDC], Tegner, Knee injury and Osteoarthritis Outcome Score), meniscal status, and knee stability (KT-1000 arthrometer, pivot-shift test, Lachman test, 1-legged hop test).
Results: All 50 patients (100%) were included in the current study for follow-up. After 20 years, we found knee osteoarthritis in 80% of the operative group compared with 68% of the nonoperative group (P =.508). There was no difference between groups regarding functional outcomes and meniscectomy performed. The median IKDC subjective score was 81.6 (interquartile range [IQR], 59.8-89.1) for the operative group and 78.2 (IQR, 61.5-92.0) for the nonoperative group (P =.679). Regarding the IKDC objective score, 21 patients (84%) in the operative group had a normal or near normal score (A and B) compared with 5 patients (20%) in the nonoperative group (P <.001). The pivot-shift test finding was negative in 17 patients (68%) versus 3 patients (13%) for the operative and nonoperative groups, respectively (P <.001), and the Lachman test finding was negative in 12 patients (48%) versus 1 patient (4%), respectively (P =.002).
Conclusion: In this retrospective pair-matched follow-up study, we found that after 20-year follow-up, there was no difference in knee osteoarthritis between operative versus nonoperative treatment when treatment was allocated on the basis of a patient’s response to 3 months of nonoperative treatment. Although knee stability was better in the operative group, it did not result in better subjective and objective functional outcomes.

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Keywords anterior cruciate ligament, nonoperative, operative, osteoarthritis, rupture, treatment
Persistent URL,
Journal American Journal of Sports Medicine
van Yperen, D.T, Reijman, M, van Es, E.M, Bierma-Zeinstra, S.M, & Meuffels, D.E. (2018). Twenty-Year Follow-up Study Comparing Operative Versus Nonoperative Treatment of Anterior Cruciate Ligament Ruptures in High-Level Athletes. American Journal of Sports Medicine, 46(5), 1129–1136. doi:10.1177/0363546517751683