How Concussions Increase ACL Injury Rates

Studies show that coming back to the field too early following a concussion increases an athlete's risk of a lower-body injury.

Athletes who have had a concussion are experiencing more lower-body injuries, including the dreaded ACL tear. But why? How can a brain injury result in injuring your knee?

RELATED: What Doctors Aren't Telling You About Your Kid's Concussion

In a 2016 study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, recently concussed student-athletes were observed for acute non-contact lower-body injuries during the 90-day period after being cleared to return to play. The results showd that the previously concussed athletes were 2.48 times more likely to sustain a lower-body injury.

In a similar 2015 study conducted at the University of North Carolina, concussed college athletes were paired with non-concussed athletes. Again, the researchers found that lower-body injuries were far more common after a concussion than before one.

Some potential reasons that were discussed in the articles:

  • Abnormal motor functioning
  • Issues with attentional resource allocation
  • Neuromuscular/balance/postural impairments

Unfortunately, no amount of physical training will fix an athlete's impaired motor functioning and balance caused by a concussion. These impairments are neurological.

RELATED: STUDY: Football Practice Without Helmets Reduces Concussions

Even though athletes are being cleared to play after passing the necessary tests and protocols, their mental capabilities are still not 100 percent to where they were prior to sustaining the concussion. An athlete who isn't at 100 percent mentally may only be a split-second slower in his or her reaction time or decision-making, but that short time is significant enough to turn a routine movement into a devastating injury.

Think about it: You're a soccer player getting back on defense. The offensive player tries to make a move on you—faking right and dribbling left. You're playing your first game since suffering a concussion two weeks ago, and although you feel great, your reaction time and motor function is just slightly off—but you're not too concerned.

The "fake one way and go the other" is a move that you've stopped hundreds of times in your career. When your opponent makes the move, you go to poke the ball away but get your knee caught in the turf, which causes a torn ACL. Your brain wasn't quick enough to relay the message to your lower body to do exactly what you wanted it to do and exactly when you wanted to do it. Just a split second off.

However, just as you can physically rehab and strengthen your knee after surgery, you can do the same for your brain. Training your brain and regaining and strengthening your cognitive skills is now a reality.

RELATED: Your Complete Guide to Recovering From an ACL Tear

So, how can an athlete train his or her brain to regain normal motor function, attentional resource allocation and neuromuscular impairments? One solution that I use with my athletes is NeuroTracker.

NeuroTracker is brain training system that presents athletes with eight yellow balls on a screen. Before each set, four of the balls are briefly highlighted in orange. The balls then start moving and bouncing in a virtual cube. After eight seconds, you must identify the balls that were highlighted.


This is where NeuroTracker helps. In this scenario, the knee injury was not a result of a prior knee injury or a weak lower body—it was due to impaired cognitive function. NeuroTracker helps to train the brain by literally rewiring disrupted neurological pathways so that you are able to:

  • Focus and make quicker decisions
  • Enhance depth perception and peripheral awareness
  • Process information faster
  • Improve anticipation and reaction time

There are few tools that can correct disrupted pathways in the brain after suffering a concussion. NeuroTracker is one of, if not the only training tool available right now as a potential solution to the concussion/lower-body injury epidemic.

For more information on NeuroTracker and Cognitive Programs for ACL Rehab, check out:

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