On-Ice Return-to-Hockey Progression After Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction
The literature pertaining to the rehabilitation of ice hockey players seeking to return to sport after anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction (ACLR) is currently limited. The purpose of this clinical commentary was to present a criterion-based progression for return to ice hockey for athletes after ACLR. First, we review pertinent literature and provide previously published guidelines on general rehabilitation after ACLR. Then, we present a 4-phase, on-ice skating progression with objective criteria to initiate each phase. During the early on-ice phase, the athlete is reintroduced to specific demands, including graded exposure to forward, backward, and crossover skating. In the intermediate on-ice phase, the emphasis shifts to developing power and introducing anticipated changes of direction within a controlled environment. During the late on-ice phase, the focus progresses to developing anaerobic endurance and introducing unanticipated changes of direction, but still without other players or contact. Finally, once objective return-to-sport criteria are met, noncontact team drills, outnumbered and even-numbered drills, practices, scrimmages, and games are progressively reintroduced during the return-to-sport phase. Recommendations for off-ice strength and conditioning exercises complement the on-ice progression. Additionally, we apply the return-to-hockey progression framework to a case report of a female collegiate defensive ice hockey player who returned to sport successfully after ACLR. This criterion-based return-to-hockey progression may guide rehabilitation specialists managing athletes returning to ice hockey after ACLR.