Purpose: Quadriceps weakness is common after anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction (ACLR). Limited neuromuscular activation may have a role in the weakness. The purpose of this study was to use peripheral magnetic stimulation to measure changes in quadriceps inhibition in patients during rehabilitation from ACLR.
Methods: Ten patients (7M/3F; age 35 ± 8 years; BMI 26.0 ± 4.8 kg/m2) who had ACLR with patellar tendon autograft were recruited. At 3 and 6 months postoperatively, patients' knee extension peak torque was measured during maximum voluntary isometric contraction (MVIC), magnetic stimulation-evoked contraction, and MVIC augmented with superimposed burst magnetic stimulation to the femoral nerve. All tests were done bilaterally at 30° and 65° of knee flexion on a dynamometer. Central activation ratio was calculated by dividing the peak torque before stimulation by peak torque after stimulation.
Results: Patients had marked deficits in MVIC, with improvement from 3 to 6 months that was more apparent at 65° versus 30° (P < 0.05). There was significant deficit in stimulation-evoked torque on the involved side that diminished over time, and this change occurred differently between the two angles (P < 0.05). Central activation ratio was lower on the involved side versus the noninvolved side and this effect was more prominent at 3 versus 6 months: combining the angles, mean central activation ratio on the involved and noninvolved sides, respectively, was 91.4 ± 7.6% and 97.5 ± 5.3% at 3 months, and 93.0 ± 7.8% and 95.8 ± 6.8% at 6 months.
Conclusions: At 3 and 6 months after ACLR, there were significant deficits in quadriceps strength and activation. Quadriceps activation levels were high (> 90%) for both sides at both time points. The substantial strength deficits at this postoperative period may be largely due to muscle atrophy with limited contribution from central inhibition. Rehabilitation interventions to normalize quadriceps strength should emphasize hypertrophic stimuli as opposed to neuromuscular activation strategies.
Level of evidence: II, prospective cohort study.
Keywords: Anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction; Central activation ratio; Muscle inhibition; Muscle strength; Peripheral magnetic stimulation; Quadriceps; Rehabilitation.