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ACL Injury May Call For Brain Retraining

A new study has discovered that regaining full function after an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury is more than just physical — it requires retraining the brain.

Published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, the study shows parts of the brain associated with leg movement lagged during recovery from an ACL injury.

Through comparing brain scans, researchers at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center could see the differences in brain activity in healthy adults versus those recovering from ACL injuries when extending and flexing the knee.

“The brain fundamentally changed in how it processes information from an injured knee,” said Dustin Grooms, Ph.D, a researcher who conducted the study at Ohio State and is currently employed at Ohio University. “We think those changes play a big role in why people who recover from ACL injuries don’t trust their knees entirely and tend to move them differently.”

The brain scans showed that instead of relying on movement or spatial awareness, people who had suffered an ACL injury relied more on the visual systems in the brain when moving their knee. They didn’t move it as naturally or instinctively as those who had not been injured, according to the researchers.

“It’s like walking in the dark — you don’t walk as fast, you don’t move as confidently,” said Jimmy Onate, a health and rehabilitative sciences researcher at Wexner center. “These individuals may, in a smaller sense, be doing the same — not moving as confidently and constantly using visual feedback from the world around them when they really don’t need to.”

Consistently depending on the brain’s visual systems for movement can cause complications when participating in complex sports, the researchers noted. To help patients overcome that, therapists are using strobe glasses to include motor learning and visual-motor compensations in rehabilitation.

“The idea is to use these glasses to visually distract these patients, so their brains will rewire back to their original state,” said Grooms. “That will allow them to once again move their knee based on natural instinct instead of relying on visual cues.”

Individuals who experience an ACL injury and attempt to return to activity are 30 to 40 times more likely to sustain a second ACL injury compared to those in the same sport who have not experienced an ACL injury, the researchers reported.

Source: Ohio State University Wexner Medical CenterĀ 
Video: If you’ve ever torn an ACL, you know it can take months for your knee to get back to normal. But a new study suggests that it’s not just your knee that’s affected by the injury — your brain is affected, as well. Scientists have discovered changes in how the brain works after an injury — and it could alter the way we approach rehab.Credit:The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

ACL Injury May Call For Brain Retraining

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). ACL Injury May Call For Brain Retraining. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 3, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 5 Nov 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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