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Accident-prone? Scientists link brain function to knee injuries

A torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is among an athlete's most-dreaded injuries, often requiring surgery and months of rehab, as has been the case with Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb.

While being tackled in football or hurtling into an embankment on an icy ski course can tear this major knee ligament, most athletes actually do themselves in--they don't collide with a person or object, they end up injuring themselves when they land off-balance during a jump or run.

But why?

In a first-ever study of its kind, University of Delaware scientists have shown that differences in brain function may be to blame, predisposing some of us to noncontact knee injuries.

The research, which involved scientists from UD, Michigan State University, West Chester University and St. Joseph's University, is reported in the June edition of the American Journal of Sports Medicine.

We had some data from previous research which suggested that these noncontact knee injuries occur when a person gets distracted or is 'caught off guard,' Charles Buz Swanik, the UD assistant professor of health sciences who led the study, said. These awkward movements have the biomechanical appearance of a knee buckling, but can be reproduced safely in the lab to study how people mentally prepare and react to unanticipated events.

This made me wonder if we could measure whether these individuals had different mental characteristics that made them injury-prone, Swanik said.

To identify subjects for their study, the researchers administered neurocognitive tests to nearly 1,500 athletes at 18 universities during the preseason. This testing also provided baseline data for athletes who might sustain a concussion after the season started, Swanik said.

Visual memory, verbal memory, processing speed, and reaction time all were assessed.

For example, a color-matching test was used to measure reaction time and pro
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Contact: Tracey Bryant
tbryant@udel.edu
302-831-8185
University of Delaware
16-Jul-2007


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