Background: Instability of the knee, related to anterior cruciate ligament injury, is treated by surgical reconstruction. During recovery, a loss of proprioceptive input can have a significant impact. Few studies have evaluated the benefits of rehabilitation of the knee in aquatic environment on functional outcomes.
Objective: This study aimed to compare an innovative rehabilitation protocol combining reduced conventional rehabilitation with aquatic rehabilitation, with a conventional rehabilitation, according to the National French Health Authority, in terms of kinetics, development of proprioceptive skills, and functional improvement of the knee.
Methods: 67 patients, who were amateur or professional athletes, were randomized into two groups: 35 patients followed the conventional rehabilitation protocol (Gr1) and 32 patients followed the innovative rehabilitation protocol (Gr2). Patients were evaluated before surgery, and at 2 weeks, 1, 2, and 6 months after surgery using posturography, and evaluation of muscular strength, walking performance and proprioception. This study is multicenter, prospective, randomized, and controlled with a group of patients following conventional rehabilitation (level of evidence I).
Results: For the same quality of postural control, Gr2 relied more on somesthesia than Gr1 at 6 months. The affected side had an impact on postural control and in particular on the preoperative lateralization, at 2 weeks and at 1 month. Lateralization depended on the affected knee, with less important lateralization in Gr2 preoperatively and at 1 month. The quadriceps muscular strength was higher in Gr2 than in Gr1 at 2 and 6 months and muscle strength of the external hamstring was greater in Gr2 than in Gr1 at 6 months. The isokinetic test showed a greater quadriceps muscular strength in Gr2. Gr2 showed a greater walking distance than Gr1 at one month. Gr2 showed an improvement in the proprioceptive capacities of the operated limb in flexion for the first 2 months.
Conclusion: The effectiveness of the innovative rehabilitation program permits faster recovery, allowing for an earlier return to social, sporting, and professional activities. Faster retrieval of knee function following aquatic rehabilitation would prevent both short-term risk of lesions of the contralateral limb due to overcompensation and long-term risk of surgery due to osteoarthritis.
Registration of clinical trials: NCT02225613.
Keywords: anterior cruciate ligament injury; balneotherapy; postural control; proprioception; rehabilitation; sports injury.