New research shows that training the brain may be just as effective as training muscles in preventing ACL knee injuries, and suggests a shift from performance-based to prevention-based athletic training programs, say researchers at the University of Michigan.

In studying ACL injuries, researchers had participants perform one-legged squats to fatigue, then tested the reactions to various jumping and movement commands. Researchers found that both legs, not just the fatigued leg, showed equally dangerous and potentially injurious responses, said Scott McLean, assistant professor with the U-M School of Kinesiology. The fatigued participants showed significant potentially harmful changes in lower body movements that, when preformed improperly, can cause ACL tears.

Most research and prevention of ACL injuries focuses below the waist in a controlled lab setting, says McLean, but the U-M approach “looks a bit north and attempts to untangle the brain’s role in movements in a random, realistic, and complex sports environments.”

In a related paper, McLean’s group again tested the single leg landings of 13 men and 13 women after working their legs to fatigue. The study showed that men and women showed significant changes in lower limb mechanics during unanticipated single leg landings. Again, the findings point to the brain, McLean says.

Another research study sowing that preventative health care really does make a difference.

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