Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) damage can significantly impact an athlete’s future participation in sports. While a lot of ACL injuries result from external impact, many tears result from poor mechanics during running or jumping activities. Scientists from the University of Delaware have now proposed that ACL damage may actually originate in the brain, and that athletes may have a predisposition toward this painful and debilitating type of injury if they do not possess adequate visual memory, verbal memory, processing speed and reaction time.
The study assessed these characteristics in 1,500 male and female collegiate athletes from a variety of sports. Eighty of the athletes were identified as having sustained a “noncontact” ACL injury during the season, and researchers examined results from the preseason cognitive tests. Analysis revealed that the injured athletes “demonstrated significantly slower reaction time and processing speed and performed worse on visual and verbal memory tests.” While the study authors acknowledged this difference, they also noted that enhancing these characteristics will require further study. “It’s hard to say at this point how much we can alter these characteristics with training, but certainly the brain has great potential for learning and adaptation,” stated lead author Charles Buz Swanik, assistant professor of health sciences at the University of Delaware, in a press release.