ACL Tears Can Do Real Damage to the Brain, Study Finds

ACL tears

Trauma to the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, has been found to also do real damage to the brain in a new study. It is already known that ACL tears can lead to some degree of permanent loss of joint function. However, the reason behind this isn’t clear.

The new study, published in NeuroImage: Clinical, was carried out by researchers at the University of Michigan. Here, we’ll look at what the new study found and how ACL injuries link to brain damage.

Latest ACL injury study

The latest study involved 10 patients who had undergone ACL reconstructive surgery. MRI brain scans were taken to assess brain activity.

The scans clearly showed areas of the corticospinal tract had experienced deterioration. This is the part of the brain responsible for relaying messages to the muscles. On average, the side of the corticospinal tract which correlated to the knee which received ACL reconstruction, was around 15% smaller than the other side.

As the pathway is smaller, it means less information can be passed onto the muscles from the brain. What this means for patients, is that there is a chance of re-injury, as well as issues with performance and a potentially slower recovery. It also means, even with physiotherapy, joint function might not return to normal.

The link between ACL tears and brain damage

This new small study isn’t the only one to look at brain damage caused by ACL reconstruction. A previous study, published in the Journal of Orthopaedics & Sports Physical Therapy, showed a lag in parts of the brain during recovery from ACL surgery.

The study revealed that those recovering from ACL surgery, relied on visual systems within the brain, rather than instinct when moving the knee. Confidence in using the knee reduced significantly, making it especially tough for those partaking in sports. In a bid to reduce the issue, therapists in Ohio are using strobe glasses to visually distract patients, forcing their brains to rewire back to their original state.

Researchers from the most recent study, believe the changes in the brain are as a result of a defence mechanism. They think the brain tries to reduce movement around the joint injury to aid its recovery. However, this is just a theory. What is known for sure, is ACL surgery doesn’t just affect the way the brain communicates with the body, but it also changes the brains building blocks too.

Even with the research that has been carried out so far, it is still unsure why ACL reconstructive surgery damages the brain. However, the research does provide more guidance on how patients should be treated.

Rather than just focusing on improving the range of movement in the joint and reducing swelling, a systematic review of treatments needs to be considered. Approaches such as re-wiring the brain for example, could work well to help the body adapt.

Overall, ACL injuries can have a significant impact on a patient’s life, particularly for those who partake in sports. This new research shows the damage that can occur and how it should potentially be treated.