Study: When You Injure Your Knee, It Changes Your Brain

Researchers say we rely more on vision after injuries, suggest a new approach to rehab

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(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – A new study shows that when you injure your knee, it changes your brain – which could put you at risk for further injuries. Using MRI, researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center examined several pairs of volunteers, half who have suffered arterial cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries and half who haven’t.

“We were able to see in real time that the brain fundamentally changed in how it processes information from an injured knee,” said Dustin Grooms, PhD, ATC, CSCS, who worked on the study at Ohio State, but is currently employed at Ohio University. “We think those changes play a big role in why people who recover from ACL injuries don’t trust their knees entirely and tend to move them differently.”

The brain scans showed that people who had suffered ACL injuries relied on visual cues when moving their knee and didn’t move it as naturally or instinctively as those who had not been injured.

“It’s like walking in the dark, you don’t walk as fast, you don’t move as confidently,” said Jimmy Onate, PhD, AT, ATC, FNATA, of Ohio State Wexner Medical Center. “These individuals may, in a smaller sense, be doing the same thing, not moving as confidently and constantly using visual cues when they really don’t need to.”

To help patients overcome dependence on visual cues, therapists are using special strobe glasses in rehab. “The idea is to use these glasses to visually distract these patients, so their brains will rewire back to their original state ,” said Grooms. “That will allow them to once again move their knee based on natural instinct instead of relying on visual cues.”


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Researchers observe brain scans in real time as a patient moves his knee during an MRI. A new study shows knee injuries cause changes in the brain and alter the way patients move after they heal.

Therapists use shutter glasses during a rehab session at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. The glasses cause visual distractions, allowing patients to rehabilitate injuries more instinctively, instead of relying on visual cues, which is often the case after knee injury.

Dustin Grooms, PhD, ATC, CSCS, left, uses shutter glasses while working to rehab the knee of Scott Monfort. The glasses create a visual distraction, which causes patients to rely more on instinct during rehabilitation and less on visual cues, which often happens to patients who suffer knee injuries, a new study shows.

Scans taken in real time show how knee injuries change the brain, making patients rely more on visual cues for movement instead of natural instincts.

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