Background: Weakness of the quadriceps femoris muscle after anterior cruciate ligament injury and reconstruction has been attributed to incomplete voluntary activation of the muscle. The literature is conflicting on the incidence of incomplete voluntary quadriceps activation after anterior cruciate ligament injury because of differences in testing methods and population biases. The purpose of this study was to systematically examine the incidence and severity of quadriceps voluntary activation failure in both lower extremities after acute anterior cruciate ligament injury. We hypothesized that the incidence of quadriceps inhibition would be higher in the anterior cruciate ligament injured limbs than the uninvolved limbs, that the incidence of inhibition in the anterior cruciate ligament deficient limbs would be larger than in our historical sample of healthy young individuals tested in the same manner and that there would be no difference in inhibition by gender.
Study design: Prospective, descriptive.
Methods: One hundred consecutive patients with acute anterior cruciate ligament rupture (39 women and 61 men) were tested when range of motion was restored and effusion resolved, an average of 6 weeks after injury. A burst superimposition technique was used to assess quadriceps muscle activation and strength in all patients. Dependent t-tests were used to compare side-to-side differences in quadriceps strength. Independent t-tests were used to compare incidence of activation failure by gender and make comparisons to historical data on young, active individuals.
Results: The average involved side quadriceps activation was 0.92, and ranged from 0.60 to 1.00. The incidence of incomplete activation in the involved side quadriceps was 33 per cent and uninvolved side quadriceps was 31 per cent after acute anterior cruciate ligament rupture. The incidence of incomplete activation bilaterally was 21 per cent. There was no difference in incidence of quadriceps inhibition by gender.
Conclusion: The incidence of voluntary quadriceps inhibition on the involved side was three times that of uninjured, active young subjects, but the magnitude was not large. The incidence of quadriceps inhibition on the uninjured side was similar to the injured side.
Clinical relevance: Both the incidence and magnitude of quadriceps inhibition after ACL rupture are lower than have previously been reported. The conventional wisdom, therefore, that quadriceps inhibition is a significant problem in this population is challenged by the results of this study. Differences between this study and others include sufficient practice to ensure a maximal effort contraction and rigorous inclusion criteria. The findings have implications for strength testing as well as rehabilitation. The quadriceps index, an assessment of the injured side quadriceps strength deficit may be affected by the presence of voluntary activation failure in the uninvolved side.