Injury to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) not only causes mechanical instability but also leads to a functional deficit in the form of diminished proprioception of the knee joint. "Functional" recovery is often incomplete even after "anatomic" arthroscopic ACL reconstruction, as some patients with a clinically satisfactory repair and good ligament tension continue to complain of a feeling of instability and giving way, although the knee does not sublux on clinical testing. Factors that may play a role could be proprioceptive elements, as the intact ACL has been shown to have significant receptors. Significant data have come to light demonstrating proprioceptive differences between normal and injured knees, and often between injured and reconstructed knees. ACL remnants have been shown to have proprioceptive fibers that could enhance functional recovery if they adhere to or grow into the reconstructed ligament. Conventionally the torn remnants are shaved off from the knee before graft insertion; modern surgical techniques, with remnant sparing methods have shown better outcomes and functional recovery, and this could be an avenue for future research and development. This article analyzes and reviews our understanding of the sensory element of ACL deficiency, with specific reference to proprioception as an important component of functional knee stability. The types of mechanoreceptors, their distribution and presence in ACL remnants is reviewed, and suggestions are made to minimize soft tissue shaving during ACL reconstruction to ensure a better functional outcome in the reconstructed knee.
Keywords: Anterior cruciate ligament; mechanoreceptors; proprioception; reconstruction.