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There may not be the fix we knee’d

Too often athletes sit in hospitals, anxiously awaiting the results of MRIs to hear what damage has been done to the ligaments or cartilage of their knee. These injuries cause Clemson athletes to miss whole seasons at a time, and can mean surgery and months of rehabilitation. Most cartilaginous knee injuries are caused by joint dislocations, ligament tears, meniscus tears, falls or impacts, infections and disease-driven inflammation, all of which are fairly common in the athletic realm. However, these injuries are becoming a much bigger deal than they have been in the past. With more recent research and analysis on these unfortunate injuries, medical professionals are now learning that the permanent fixes we have been guaranteed may not exist.   

To further understand the reality of cartilaginous knee injuries, scientists utilized a radioactive isotope of carbon called carbon-14. Due to nuclear weapon testing over the years, the levels of carbon-14 have varied accordingly. By analyzing how much carbon-14 is present in the collagen of a molecule, which is the protein that supports cartilage, one is able to tell how long it has been since that molecule has grown or regenerated. If cartilage is being replaced, the levels of carbon-14 in the collagen should be similar to the current atmospheric levels. If the cartilage has not grown or regenerated, the level would be aligned with the level in the atmosphere at the time of last growth. 

As reported in Science magazine, rheumatologist Michael Kjaer from the University of Copenhagen studied this phenomenon in many patients who had some type of cartilaginous knee problem requiring knee replacements – ranging from bone tumors to osteoarthritis. 

The levels of carbon-14 in each individual’s collagen was representative of the levels that were present when they were eight to 13 years old, thus proving that despite their knee replacements, cartilage was never regenerated after it was completely developed. 

With these new findings, previous medical strides made to restore knee cartilage, such as those using stem cell implantation and healthy cartilage transplantation, are now on the decline. Instead, medical professionals are working towards preventative treatments which will keep cartilage from further degeneration. 

The reality of cartilaginous injuries lies in the truth that once a person struggles from such injury, there is no return to collagenous normalcy. Given this, maybe the Clemson Tigers football players should not take ACL and meniscus tears as just “business as usual”. 

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