ACL and the Brain

Understanding the Impact of ACL Injuries on the Brain: Insights and Solutions

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries are among the most common and challenging injuries in sports. Despite intensive physical therapy, some joint function is often permanently lost after ACL reconstruction, and re-injury is common. But why is this the case?

Higher ACL Injury Risk in Elite and Female Athletes

Research has shown that the risk of ACL injuries is significantly higher in elite sports compared to non-elite sports. Female athletes, in particular, are 3-6 times more likely to sustain a sports-related noncontact ACL injury than their male counterparts in comparable high-risk sports. Specifically, the incidence of knee injuries in female athletes is 3.5 times greater in basketball and 2.8 times greater in soccer compared to male athletes.

The Hidden Consequences of ACL Tears

When the ACL tears, it not only damages the ligament but also the nerve endings within it. These nerve endings do not regrow once damaged. A recent study from the University of Michigan School of Kinesiology sheds light on how this nerve damage affects the brain and provides important clues about recovery from joint injuries.

Insights from the University of Michigan Study

Researchers Lindsey and Adam Lepley conducted MRI brain scans on 10 ACL-reconstructed patients. The scans revealed that part of the corticospinal tract, which transmits messages from the brain to muscles, had atrophied in these patients. According to Adam Lepley, "The brain not only alters the way it communicates with the rest of the body, joints, muscles, etc., but the structural makeup of the basic building blocks of the brain are also changed after ACL injury." This protective mechanism may limit unwanted movement around the injured joint but also impacts other musculoskeletal injuries.

The Brain-Body Connection in ACL Recovery

After an ACL injury, the brain may send fewer signals to the surrounding muscles, leading to muscle atrophy and altered knee joint function. This finding highlights that knee injuries impact not just the knees but also the brain structure. Fortunately, the brain's neuroplasticity allows it to develop alternate pathways in response to injury, adapting to a new normal.

Similar Patterns in Concussion Injuries

A similar pattern has been observed following concussions. There is a 2-4 times increase in knee and other lower body injuries within the first six months post-concussion. This strong link between brain injuries and subsequent musculoskeletal injuries underscores the need for a systemic approach in treatment.

A Comprehensive Approach to Rehabilitation

At Honsberger Physio+, we have found that linking the body and brain in injury prevention and rehabilitation is highly effective. Our comprehensive rehabilitation treatment incorporates both physical and neurocognitive approaches using advanced sports performance vision training equipment.

If you are experiencing lingering concussion symptoms or fall into the 'at risk' groups mentioned above, consider our validated preventative programs to help reduce the incidence of knee injuries in sports like basketball, volleyball, and soccer. These programs utilize dorsaVi movement analysis and sports-specific testing and conditioning to minimize knee injury risk.

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Don’t let ACL injuries and their hidden consequences hold you back book your appointment today and take the first step towards comprehensive recovery and injury prevention.

Orthopedic Rehabilitation
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