Prevention of quadriceps wasting after immobilization: an evaluation of the effect of electrical stimulation

Orthopedics. 1986 Nov;9(11):1519-28. doi: 10.3928/0147-7447-19861101-08.


Eighteen male and 20 female patients who underwent reconstruction of their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) with a flap from the patellar tendon were randomly assigned into either closed cast, isometric muscle training and electric stimulation (ES group), or closed cast and isometric training alone (control group). The degree of quadriceps wasting was determined from computerized tomographic scans (CT) before and 6 weeks after surgery. Electrical stimulation was given with a battery operated stimulator that produced a rectangular asymmetric balanced biphasic pulse shape. The pulse rate was 40 Hz and the pulse width 300 microseconds. Patients received 30 min of stimulation three times daily during 5.5 weeks. Female control patients showed a larger decrease in quadriceps area on CT than male control patients (P less than .001). No significant difference was found between male electrically stimulated patients and control patients. In female patients, there was on the contrary, a highly significant difference in favor of electrical stimulation (P less than .001) When the different parts of the quadriceps were studied, a significantly lower degree of atrophy of the vastus medialis was found after electrical stimulation. Vastus lateralis did not show any difference. Measurements of CT attenuation, pre- and post-operatively, showed a decrease in attenuation of 17% for the vastus medialis and lateralis of the operated leg after immobilization, indicating an increase in fat content. In the rectus femoris, however, there was an increase in attenuation of 14.6%. Percutaneous muscle biopsies from the vastus lateralis obtained before, one week after, and 6 weeks after surgery revealed that the cross-sectional area of the individual muscle fibers decreased less in the electrically stimulated than in controls, but the difference was not significant. There were no differences between the two groups in the activity of an oxidative enzyme, citrate synthase, or a glycolytic enzyme, phosphofructokinase (PFK). We conclude that females reacted more favorably than males to electrical stimulation of quadriceps during an immobilization period after knee surgery.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immobilization*
  • Knee Joint / surgery
  • Male
  • Muscles / enzymology
  • Muscles / pathology
  • Muscles / physiopathology*
  • Muscular Atrophy / physiopathology
  • Muscular Atrophy / prevention & control*
  • Muscular Atrophy / therapy
  • Sex Factors
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed