Examining the relationship between neuroplasticity and learned helplessness after ACLR: Early versus late recovery

Julie P. Burland, Adam S. Lepley, Marc Cormier, Lindsay J. DiStefano, Lindsey K. Lepley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Context: Altered neural signaling is known to have a direct impact on psychological wellness. Therefore, disruptions in neural signaling after anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction may influence psychological dysfunction, in some cases manifesting as learned helplessness. Helplessness is a psychological paradigm that presents as altered neuromuscular control, reduced motivation, and psychological deficits. Objectives: The authors sought to evaluate the relationship between helplessness, neural activity, and quadriceps function at different time points after anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction. Evidence Acquisition: Twenty-nine individuals with unilateral anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction were categorized into early group (<2 y, age: 19.13 [2.18] y; height: 1.77 [0.11] m; mass: 76.903 [11.87] kg) or late group (>2 y, age: 22 [23] y; height: 1.67 [0.07] m; mass: 65.66 [11.33] kg). Quadriceps function (activation and strength), spinal-reflexive and corticospinal excitability (active motor thresholds and motor evoked potentials), and helplessness were obtained. A principal component analysis was performed by group (early and late) to identify which factors of helplessness were most associated with neural activity and quadriceps function. Pearson product moment correlation analyses were performed by group to determine associations between individual components and main outcomes. Evidence Synthesis: In the early group, cognitive readiness was associated with quadriceps strength of the injured limb (r2 = .513, P = .004), and self-awareness/management was associated with motor threshold of the injured limb (r2 = .238, P = .05). In the late group, intrinsic helplessness was associated with motor output of injured limb (r2 = .653, P = .01). Conclusion: Helplessness is made up of several attributional constructs, which are altered at different phases of recovery. Helplessness constructs interact differently with neural activity and quadriceps function across time. These findings are preliminary and do not establish a causal link between neural alterations and learned helplessness. Future studies should serially evaluate both changes in neural activity and learned helplessness attributes throughout recovery.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)70-77
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Sport Rehabilitation
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Human Kinetics, Inc.


  • Neural alterations
  • Neuromuscular function
  • Psychological function

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Rehabilitation


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