Large variation in postoperative rehabilitation protocols following operative treatment of osteochondral lesions of the talus: A systematic review and meta-analysis on >200 studies

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Purpose: A treatment-specific rehabilitation protocol and well-defined return-to-play criteria guide clinical decision-making on return to normal function, activity, sports and performance after surgical treatment for osteochondral lesion of the talus (OLT). The optimal rehabilitation protocols in the current literature remain unclear. The purpose of this study was to explore the existing literature on rehabilitation protocols from the early postoperative phase to return to sport onwards after different types of surgical treatment of OLTs. Methods: PubMed, Embase, CDSR, DARE and Central were searched systematically from inception to February 2023 according to the PRISMA 2020 guidelines. All clinical studies with a description of postoperative rehabilitation criteria after surgical treatment of OLTs were included. The primary outcome of this study is the extent of reportage for each rehabilitation parameter expressed in percentage. The secondary outcome is the reported median time for each parameter in rehabilitation protocols for all different treatment modalities (type of surgery). The median time, expressed as number of weeks, for each parameter was compared between different types of surgery. Results: A total of 227 articles were included reporting on 255 different rehabilitation protocols from seven different types of surgery. Weight-bearing instructions were reported in 84%–100% and the use of a cast or walker was prescribed in 27%–100%. Range of motion exercises were described in 54%–100% whereas physical therapy was advised in 21%–67% of the protocols. Any advice on return to sport was described in 0%–67% protocols. A nonparametric analysis of variance showed significant differences between the different surgical treatment modalities for the following parameters between the treatment groups: time to full weight-bearing (p < 0.0003) and return to high impact level of sports (p < 0.0003). Subjective or objective criteria for progression during rehabilitation were reported in only 24% of the studies. Conclusion: An in-depth exploration of the current literature showed substantial variation in postoperative rehabilitation guidelines with an associated underreporting of the most important rehabilitation parameters in postoperative protocols after surgical treatment of OLTs. Furthermore, nearly all rehabilitation protocols were constructed according to a time-based approach. Only one out of four reported either objective or subjective criteria. Level of Evidence: Level IV, systematic review.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)334-343
Number of pages10
JournalKnee surgery, sports traumatology, arthroscopy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2024


  • OLT
  • ankle
  • cartilage
  • osteochondral lesions
  • physiotherapy
  • rehabilitation

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