“It won’t replace surgery, but it could fundamentally change how we do therapy,” Dustin Grooms, Ph.D., A.T.C., C.S.C.S., a lead researcher researcher for the study as a doctoral student at OSU’s Health and Rehabilitation Sciences program and now an assistant professor at Ohio University, told Healthline.

Studying brain-body connection

For the study, Grooms and other researchers looked at 15 patients with anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries and 15 people with healthy knees. They put both groups through rehab programs while taking images of their brains. The researchers said people who had ACL injuries relied more on visual cues when using their knee and didn’t move as naturally as the folks without an injury.Grooms said they noticed several differences between the two sets of subjects. One difference involved the part in the back of the brain that deals with visual images. This is the bridge between the eyes and the muscles.

Changes in these sensors caused the injured patients to move more cautiously, as if they were walking in the dark.There were also differences in the parts of the brain that read pain and control motor functions.All in all, Grooms said, the injured patients’ brains were reacting to the injured parts of their knees. That was preventing the folks with ACL problems from moving instinctively like they did before they were injured. Dr. Christina Allen, a professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), said the idea of a “brain-body interface” when dealing with injuries has been around for a while. She said this study takes the research a bit further by focusing on the knee and introducing potential new types of treatments.“It makes sense,” Allen told Healthline. “There is definitely a psychological rehab component.”