Some rehab experts suggest using the athlete's age, level of activity before the injury, and amount of joint laxity to make this decision. High-level athletes who want to get back to their former level of play are often advised to have the surgery right away.
But a group of researchers at the University of Delaware put this idea to the test. They developed a screening tool to help them decide who should have physical therapy, who was a good rehab candidate, and who needed surgery right away (or within 30 days).
They used a special screening test and exam to help in the decision-making process. They found that patients with an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear who also had other knee injuries were best off having the reconstructive surgery right away.
Patients who still had painful swelling, redness, loss of motion, or extreme weakness, were sent to physical therapy for a month. Anyone who did not recover enough to move on to rehab was then sent to the surgeon.
And patients who passed several hop tests performed on the injured leg were good rehab candidates. They were able to return to their sport after rehab and participate without further knee instability. Anyone who still had knee joint instability after rehab was also sent to the surgeon.