|Abstract or Summary
- Female athletes exhibit three- to six-fold greater incidence of noncontact anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury relative to their male counterparts. The increased risk appears to stem from interactions between several risk factors, that can roughly be categorized as anatomic, biomechanical, hormonal, and neuromuscular. Neuromuscular risk factors have recently gained a greater focus, and include differences in the timing and magnitude of activation of lower extremity and trunk musculature. In addition to neuromuscular risk factors, the incidence of ACL injury is not evenly distributed across the menstrual cycle, suggesting that hormonal fluctuations may influence neuromuscular control. Finally, it is known that even well-trained athletes experience decrements in performance and postural control when forced to attend to multiple sensory stimuli, which is common in many sports. PURPOSE: To explore neuromuscular differences in the ways healthy and ACL-injured women respond to a secondary task requiring fine motor control and sustained mental focus (typing task). Our investigation encompassed three broad aims. First, we sought to determine whether ACL-injured individuals demonstrated similar reflex profiles to healthy individuals, as well as to determine whether the ACL-involved limb was similar to its uninvolved counterpart. Our second aim was to determine whether the typing task resulted in attenuated Hoffmann (H) reflex amplitudes, and to investigate whether any observed changes were similar in healthy and ACL-injured groups. Finally, our third broad aim was to utilize more complex H reflex analysis techniques to determine whether differences in spinal excitability existed at different points in the menstrual cycle. METHODS: Thirty nine recreationally active women (20 with prior unilateral noncontact ACL injury: 24.0 ± 4.5 years; 23.8 ± 4.5 kg•m⁻²; 4.1 ± 2.6 years post-injury; 19 with no history of knee injury: 23.8 ± 4.5 years; 23.1 ± 2.3 kg•m⁻²) agreed to participate, and were tested during days 2-5 (follicular phase) of the menstrual cycle. A sub-set of this original group (n=8; 24.0 ± 4.8 years; 22.0 ± 2.1 kg•m⁻²) also agreed to return for a second testing session 24-96 hours after ovulation (early luteal phase), in order to assess H reflex differences across the menstrual cycle. During each testing session, H reflex testing was used to explore spinal-level control mechanisms of the lower extremity musculature under both Rest and Task conditions. In the control group, the dominant limb was tested (CON-D) while in the ACL group, both the uninvolved (ACL-UN) and involved (ACL-INV) limbs were assessed. Differences between groups (Control vs. ACL) and within-groups (ACL-UN vs. ACL-INV) were explored. RESULTS: At rest, H reflex parameters in ACL-INV were generally similar to ACL-UN and to CON-D. However, differences in presynaptic inhibition were apparent in ACL-INV that imply reduced reflex plasticity. During the typing task, both the Control and ACL groups experienced attenuated H reflex parameters. In the sub-set of participants who were tested twice during the menstrual cycle, a significant increase in presynaptic inhibition was observed during the early luteal phase compared to the follicular phase. CONCLUSION: While individuals with prior ACL injury display similar H reflex profiles to healthy individuals, the ACL-involved limb may demonstrate less reflex plasticity in response to environmental changes. This lack of plasticity may potentially increase the risk of re-injury. In addition, an upper extremity task requiring fine motor control and sustained mental focus attenuates the H reflex in both groups. This attenuation has implications for lower-extremity neuromuscular control in dual-task environments. Finally, the increase in presynaptic inhibition observed during the early luteal phase may provide insight into why ACL injuries are not evenly distributed across the menstrual cycle.