Thigh muscle size and strength after anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction and rehabilitation

J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 1997 Nov;26(5):238-43. doi: 10.2519/jospt.1997.26.5.238.


It is the hypothesis of the senior author (GAA) that high circumference measurements are not an accurate reflection of thigh muscle cross-sectional area or muscle strength after standard rehabilitation following anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction. Likewise, normal quadriceps femoris strength is not achieved in these patients despite aggressive rehabilitation. The purpose of our study was to quantify thigh muscle size and strength and correlate thigh circumference, muscle cross-sectional area by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and isokinetic strength in our patients. Thirty-three patients with anterior cruciate ligament repair utilizing autografts of iliotibial band (N = 28), semitendinosus autograft (N = 3), and bone-patellar tendon-bone autograft (N = 2) were retrospectively evaluated 48.7 +/- 6.91 months after surgery. We compared involved operated extremities with uninjured, uninvolved contralateral extremities, measuring thigh circumference, isokinetic peak torque, and cross-sectional area by MRI. We found a significant 1.8% decrease in thigh circumference, a 10% decrease in average quadriceps torque, and a 8.6% decrease in quadriceps cross-sectional area by MRI in the involved extremities compared with the uninvolved extremities. A positive correlation between MRI cross-sectional area, quadriceps, and hamstring peak torque was recorded in involved and uninvolved extremities. A positive correlation between thigh circumference, quadriceps, and hamstring peak torque was found in uninvolved extremities but not in operated extremities. The authors concluded that thigh circumference underestimates atrophy and is not correlated with cross-sectional thigh muscle area by MRI or strength in operated extremities. Persistent quadriceps weakness and decreased cross-sectional area at 49 months postsurgery and rehabilitation continue to challenge our efforts. The pathophysiology of the decrease in thigh muscle size and quadriceps femoris strength is discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament / surgery*
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Knee Injuries / rehabilitation
  • Knee Injuries / surgery*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle, Skeletal / pathology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology
  • Muscular Atrophy / etiology
  • Muscular Atrophy / physiopathology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Thigh