Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Kinesiology and Health Science

Committee Chair(s)

Dennis Dolny


Dennis Dolny


Brian Larsen


Dale Mildenberger


Thomas Higginbotham


An injury to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) of the knee is a very traumatic experience. Most of these injuries will be a complete rupture of that ligament, and because of the nature of the ligament, the repair process will require surgery; however, a small number of athletes have learned how to successfully stabilize the ACL-deficient knee and return to activity (Hartigan et al, 2010). For the thousands of athletes who undergo surgery to repair their ACL, this is in hopes they can return to physical competition and an active lifestyle. The ACL is also repaired in hopes of preventing joint degradation. Each of these athletes will respond differently to the surgery, and will see post-operative complications such as: amount of swelling, decreased range of motion, muscle loss, and physical pain. This non-exhaustive list of possible complications affects future progress of the athlete and may be indicative of problems to come.

After the ACL is surgically repaired, then the athlete begins the long and hard process of physical therapy. The post-operative complications can lead to the length of time involved in physical therapy and this will vary with each athlete. The athlete's dedication to rehabilitation as well as their mental approach will also affect the time frame. The general consensus that physicians have adopted is a six month minimum return to play, but most athletes are closer to the eight or nine month time frame.

After each ACL repair, the main question on the athlete's mind is, "When can I return to sport and full activity?" There are many factors that play into this loaded question, and an athlete needs to be aware of these before they return to sport and full activity. It is very important to understand that an early return, before an athlete is ready, can lead to major setbacks and even another ACL rupture. After discussing this issue at length with Lori Olsen, Physical Therapist for Utah State University, the decision was made that a return to play criteria was needed for ACL reconstruction. This criteria would inform an athlete on what needs to be accomplished before they can return to their sport and full activity. Although there is no set return to play criteria, there are different tests and techniques being used, and Utah State University would benefit from a more developed return to play criteria for ACL reconstruction.

Not only would this criteria be beneficial for current athletes, it would also be beneficial for prospective athletes who are planning to transfer or attend Utah State University. If they have had prior ACL reconstructions, they will be evaluated with this criteria to see where they are currently. This will determine how healthy the athlete is and the level of liability they are to Utah State athletics.

In discussion with numerous physicians and faculty, they are excited about the idea of such a criteria and agree that the current situation needs to be changed. This criteria will help to determine readiness to return to sport and lifelong success of the athlete.


This work made publicly available electronically on May 13, 2011.

Additional Files

RTP Brochure.pdf (365 kB)

RTP Form.pdf (51 kB)