Athletes returning to sport after anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction (ACLR) demonstrate prolonged changes in landing kinematics, kinetics, and muscle activation, predisposing them for reinjury, knee osteoarthritis, and/or knee instability. So far, researchers have been focusing on how kinematics and kinetics change in every joint separately. However, as the human body operates within a kinetic chain, we will assess whether single-joint changes are associated with whole-body changes.
Twenty-one athletes who had an ACLR and 21 uninjured controls performed five unilateral landing tasks, whereas lower limb kinematics, kinetics, and muscle activations of vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, biceps femoris, semitendinosus, semimembranosus, gastrocnemius, and gluteus medius were recorded. Single-joint landing kinematics, kinetics, and muscle activations of the ACL-injured leg were compared with the uninjured leg and compared with the control group. Whole-body changes were assessed by decomposing movements into fundamental components using marker-based principal component analysis (PCA).
We found several single-joint changes in landing kinematics, kinetics, and muscle activations in the athletes with ACLR that were seen across all tasks and therefore of major interest as they are likely to occur during sports as well. Hamstrings activation increased and external knee flexion moments decreased in the ACL-injured leg compared with their uninjured leg. Furthermore, hip adduction moments and knee abduction angles decreased compared with the control group. The PCA could detect changes in whole-body movement, which were task-specific.
Athletes with ACLR still show protective task-independent single-joint kinematic, kinetic, and muscle activation changes during single-leg landings at the time of return to sport. These single-joint changes were not consistently accompanied by changes in whole-body movements (revealed by marker-based PCA). Whole-body expressions of the single-joint compensations are likely to be affected by the demands of the task.