It looked at 184 Division I NCAA football players who suffered an ACL tear and underwent ACL reconstruction surgery. Overall, 82 percent (151) of them returned to play after recovery.
The rates were 94 percent for players who were starters before they were injured, 88 percent for those with at least some playing time, and 73 percent for those who rarely played.
Return rates were 90 percent for juniors and sophomores and about 87 percent for scholarship players, according to the study scheduled to be presented Saturday at a meeting of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, in New Orleans.
Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
"Our research shows that returning from a major knee injury and surgery is definitely possible. Furthermore, we've found that the more motivated and skilled players are more likely to achieve this goal," study author Dr. Jimmy Hoshang Daruwalla, of the orthopedics department at Emory University, said in a society news release.
"Sports medicine specialists will be able to use this data to help counsel players and tailor treatments for these collegiate athletes," he added.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about anterior cruciate ligament injury.