Background: It has been hypothesized that quadriceps muscle weakness is directly associated with the onset and progression of posttraumatic osteoarthritis after anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury and reconstruction (ACLR). This relationship, however, has not been studied with a prospective approach that includes the use of tibiofemoral joint space width difference (JSW-D) measurements to characterize the onset of posttraumatic osteoarthritis before the clinical manifestation of the disease.
Purpose: To assess the relationship between thigh muscle strength and JSW-D at presurgery baseline and at 1- and 4-year follow-up after ACLR compared with healthy, noninjured participants of similar sex, age, body mass index, and activity level.
Study design: Cohort study; Level of evidence, 3.
Methods: A total of 39 unilateral ACL-injured patients and 32 healthy controls were followed prospectively. During each follow-up, JSW, isokinetic knee strength, single-legged hop, and clinical- and patient-oriented outcomes were assessed. At final follow-up, ACL-injured participants who had JSW-D values (considered as the injured minus normal knee) that were less than the 95% confidence interval of controls were considered to be in the ACLR-narrow group, while those with JSW-D values that fell within the confidence intervals were in the ACLR-normal group. Relationships were evaluated between ACLR groups and controls via multilevel regression, as well as Kruskal-Wallis tests for between-group comparisons at 4-year follow-up.
Results: At 4-year follow-up, 30 participants (79%) were in the ACLR-normal group and 8 (21%) were in the ACLR-narrow group. At baseline, the extension, flexion, and extension/flexion ratio strength values for both ACLR groups were significantly lower than those of controls (P ≤ .05), while the ACLR-narrow group had significantly lower extension strength at 60 and 180 deg/s (P = .04 and .03, respectively), as well as extension/flexion ratio at 60 deg/s (P = .04) in comparison with the ACL-normal group. At 4-year follow-up, 60 deg/s extension strength deficits persisted in the ACLR-narrow group compared with controls and ACLR-normal participants (P = .01 and .04, respectively). Flexion strength at 180 and 300 deg/s was also significantly lower in the ACLR-narrow group compared with ACLR-normal (P = .02 and .04, respectively), as was single-legged hop distance (P = .04).
Conclusion: Strength deficits present within months after ACL injury and persist through 4 years after ACLR in participants with significantly narrowed JSW-D, compared with ACLR participants with normal JSW-D and controls. This study revealed a significant relationship between quadriceps strength loss that occurred soon after injury and JSW narrowing.
Keywords: anterior cruciate ligament; joint space width; osteoarthritis; posttraumatic; risk; strength.