Professional athletes and weekend warriors in New Jersey find the concept of an ACL tear frightening. Even if reconstruction surgery seems completely successful, ACL tears can still result in permanent loss of joint function. Moreover, individuals often reinjure their ACLs without any apparent physical cause. Furthermore, damaging the ACL in one leg increases the likelihood of sustaining an ACL injury in the other leg, despite no physical explanation for these occurrences.
ACL injuries and the brain
Some researchers assert that damage to the ACL can also result in brain injuries. According to the theory, the body’s muscle control operates with a protective dimmer switch. When an individual sustains an ACL injury, the dimmer switch is lowered, reducing muscle control and reaction during ACL surgery or rehabilitation.
After seeing MRI scans in some patients who underwent ACL reconstruction, many researchers believe the link between ACL injuries and brain injuries is due to atrophy in the corticospinal tract. This pathway is responsible for transmitting messages from the brain to the muscles.
From brain to knee
Think of the corticospinal tract as a highway that runs from the brain to the knee. In certain patients with an ACL injury, a segment of this pathway appears to be closed off. As a result, the amount of information reaching the knee is reduced. Furthermore, some studies have observed a structural alteration in the brain of individuals with an ACL injury. It seems as though the body has activated a protective mechanism to restrict unwanted movement around the injured joint. Interestingly, these changes are not exclusive to the ACL but also occur in other severe musculoskeletal injuries.
Researchers believe there is much more to explore in this area. In the future, ACL reconstruction treatments may need to incorporate a neurological component to facilitate brain rewiring in individuals who have experienced ACL injuries.