Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Knee News

Disastrous Fate of Unrepaired ACLs in Athletes

There's some concern that an athlete with an unrepaired anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) ligament tear will end up with knee osteoarthritis years later. This study followed athletes who are from the former East Germany. Each one had an unrepaired (unstable) knee for 35 years.

Athletes in the Olympic training group from 1963 to 1965 who tore their ACLs were treated nonoperatively. Surgery was not done at that time because the results of previous operations were not acceptable.

Instead athletes were put in a cast for six weeks. Everyone returned to their previous level of sports participation after a full rehab program. The athletes were very motivated to go to the next Olympics.

The doctors reported that none of the athletes was able to compete in the World Championships or the Olympic games because of knee problems. Almost all of the athletes had the meniscus removed within 10 years of the ACL rupture. Severe cartilage damage and osteoarthritis was found in the knees of all athletes examined. All but one athlete had severe symptoms of pain and the knee giving out from underneath them.

Wolfgang Nebelung, MD, and Heinz Wuschech, MD. Thirty-five years of Follow-up of Anterior Cruciate Ligament-Deficient Knees in High-Level Athletes. In Arthroscopy. June 2005. Vol. 21. No. 6. Pp. 696-702.


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