Health Team

Athletes: Try this to prevent ACL tears and knee injuries

Posted August 10, 2017 6:15 p.m. EDT
Updated August 11, 2017 2:47 p.m. EDT

— Every athlete dreads a certain three-letter knee injury -- ACL.

A torn anterior cruciate ligament could end an athlete's season and even their career.

Duke University researchers are developing a new approach to prevent ACL tears and reduce the risk of osteoarthritis later in life. The injury is common and usually signaled by an athlete collapsing after an ACL injury to the knee.

Duke biomedical engineering researcher Dr. Lou DeFrate says the big question with ACL injuries is when do they really occur? In a given athlete, did the tear occur while the knee was straight or after the collapse?

An extensive study of bone bruises conducted with the use of different imaging and motion capture techniques reveals the injury does not occur with buckling motion.

"The predicted position of injury is when the knee is straight upon landing," said DeFrate.

According to researchers, women are 10 times more likely to experience an ACL injury than men. Four researchers in DeFrate's lab have had them.

Ph.D. student and gymnast Hattie Cutcliffe is one of them, and now she coaches young gymnasts and uses what she's learned to help them reduce their risk.

"Landings are a lot safer if you flex your knees as you land," said Cutcliffe. "Landing with straight legs is much more of an 'at risk' position."