The effects of neuromuscular electrical stimulation on the strength of the thigh muscles and on gait were examined in ten patients after reconstruction of the anterior cruciate ligament. The patients were randomly assigned to one of two treatment groups: neuromuscular electrical stimulation and volitional exercise, or volitional exercise alone. A four-week course of electrically elicited co-contraction of the thigh muscles resulted in significant attenuation of the characteristic loss of strength of the quadriceps as compared with volitional exercise. There was no significant difference between groups in any measure of performance of the hamstring muscles. In the group that received neuromuscular electrical stimulation, the values for cadence, walking velocity, stance time of the involved limb, and flexion-excursion of the knee during stance were significantly different from those of the volitional exercise group. Flexion-excursion of the knee during stance was directly and significantly correlated with strength of the quadriceps femoris muscle. Flexion of the knee during stance was qualitatively different in the involved extremity as compared with the uninvolved extremity in all patients. There is a rapid flexion of the knee at weight acceptance that is maintained throughout stance and probably reflects stabilization of the joint by muscular coactivation to compensate for weakness of the quadriceps. The patients who received neuromuscular electrical stimulation had stronger quadriceps muscles and more normal gait patterns than those in the volitional exercise group.
Copyright 1991 by The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Incorporated