by Dr. Gabe Mirkin
A study from East Germany shows that athletes who tear the anterior
cruciate ligament (ACL) in their knees will have permanent knee
damage if they return to competitive sports ( Arthroscopy,
June 2005). The ACL runs from the top bone of the knee to the
bottom one and prevents the top bone from sliding forward when
the foot hits the ground during running and walking. If it is
torn, the knee becomes so unstable that a person will have difficulty
walking, so all torn anterior cruciate ligaments must be repaired.
In this study, East German Olympic athletes who tore their knee
ligaments in 1963-1965 returned to competition after having their
ligaments repaired and were examined 10 and 20 years later. Virtually
all had severe knee cartilage damage and more than half had total
knee replacement surgery.
Athletes with repaired torn anterior cruciate ligaments probably
should never run or jump again, although they may be able to pedal
a bicycle. Another study showed that people who have broken cartilage
in their knees can walk and cycle, but should not run or jump.
To keep bones from wearing down at joints, their ends are covered
with a thick white gristle called cartilage. Even one bleed into
a joint damages cartilage forever. Doctors cannot replace or heal
broken cartilage, they can only replace entire knee joints. Operating
and removing broken cartilage probably increases a person’s chances
of needing a knee replacement, particularly if the exerciser continues
to run and jump. Sheering forces on the knee are very great during
walking downhill and running, and minimal during walking on level
ground and cycling. So people who have ever damaged cartilage
in their knee should walk on level ground, swim or cycle, and
avoid running and jumping.