Open Access Research article

Choosing surgery: patients' preferences within a trial of treatments for anterior cruciate ligament injury. A qualitative study

Carina A Thorstensson12*, L Stefan Lohmander2, Richard B Frobell2, Ewa M Roos23 and Rachael Gooberman-Hill4

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Research and Development, Spenshult Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases, Oskarström, Sweden

2 Department of Orthopaedics, Clinical Sciences Lund, Lund University, Lund, Sweden

3 Institute of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark

4 Clinical Science at North Bristol, Bristol University, Bristol, UK

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2009, 10:100  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-10-100

Published: 10 August 2009



The objective was to understand patients' views of treatment after acute anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury, and their reasons for deciding to request surgery despite consenting to participate in a randomised controlled trial (to 'cross-over').


Thirty-four in-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with young (aged 18–35), physically active individuals with ACL rupture who were participating in a RCT comparing training and surgical reconstruction with training only. 22/34 were randomised to training only but crossed over to surgery. Of these, 11 were interviewed before surgery, and 11 were interviewed at least 6 months after surgery. To provide additional information, 12 patients were interviewed before randomisation. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed and analysed using the Framework approach.


Strong preference for surgery was commonplace and many patients said that they joined the RCT in order to bypass waiting lists. Patients who chose to cross-over described training as time consuming, boring and as unable to provide sufficient results within a reasonable timeframe. Some said their injured knees had given-way; others experienced new knee traumas; and many described their lack of trust in their knee. Patients believed that surgery would provide joint stability. Despite the ostensible satisfaction with surgery, more detailed exploration showed mixed views.


Participants in a trial of treatments for acute ACL injury express a variety of views and beliefs about those treatments, and trial participation happens in the absence of equipoise. Furthermore, opting for surgical reconstruction does not necessarily provide patients with satisfactory outcomes. Definition of successful outcome may require an individualised approach, incorporating patients' as well as surgeons' views before treatment decisions are made.