What makes an athlete? A scoping review: Assessing the use of the word athlete with anterior cruciate ligament rehabilitation review studies. Is there a standard?

This paper examines the use of the term “athlete” in scientific literature, particularly in studies related to Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) rehabilitation. It highlights a significant lack of standardization in the definition and usage of this term across various research papers. Despite its frequent appearance in review titles, the actual utilization of the term among source papers is inconsistent. This inconsistency poses challenges in accurately defining the population under study and may lead to diluted data, impacting rehabilitation strategies for individuals with varying levels of physical activity. As a solution, the paper proposes a standardized approach involving the qualification of the term “athlete” based on exercise frequency per week, along with clear identification of elite athletes, aiming to optimize rehabilitation information for specific population groups.

Some simplified key takeaways are:

  •  Lack of Standardization: The term “athlete” lacks a standardized definition or use across scientific literature, particularly evident in studies related to Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) rehabilitation.
  • Ambiguous Usage: Although many review papers in ACL rehabilitation use the term “athlete” in their titles, only about half of their source papers actually use this term. Furthermore, only two-thirds of those source papers justify its use through either quantifying exercise or providing a definition.
  • Potential Data Dilution: The ambiguous use of the term “athlete” across studies can lead to the inclusion of participants with varying exercise levels in the same study, potentially diluting high-quality data. This may affect rehabilitation requirements and access to resources for different groups, from novices to elite athletes.
  • Proposed Solution: The paper suggests using exercise frequency per week as a qualifier for the term “athlete,” along with clearly identifying elite athletes. This would provide clearer information on the exercise participation level of study participants and help optimize rehabilitation information for specific population groups.
  • Importance of Standardization: Standardizing the definition of “athlete” is crucial for clarifying the population groups studied in research, ensuring better comparability across studies, and optimizing rehabilitation information for different population segments.
  • Future Perspectives: The study emphasizes the need for further research to expand on these findings and to explore standardization beyond ACL-related rehabilitation, potentially addressing broader issues in rehabilitation and injury prevention.