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Building Better Knees For The NBA

Popular Science—October 3, 2014

The stress of repetitive jumping makes NBA players particularly prone to painful, even career-ending cartilage lesions. For decades, microfracture surgery—pricking holes in the knee bone to stimulate tissue regrowth—was the gold-standard repair. But the fibrocartilage that forms is stiffer than the knee’s hyaline cartilage, impeding a return to elite play.

The Substitute that Delivers

To fix a lesion, doctors use osteochondral autograft transplant surgery (OATS) to transfer cartilage from a non-load-bearing section of the patient’s knee. Riley Williams, MD, director of the Institute for Cartilage Repair at the Hospital for Special Surgery, says that unlike microfracture, this method implants the collagen-rich hyaline necessary to continue competing at the highest level. After undergoing OATS, 75 percent of athletes under age 25 maintained the same level of physical activity, compared to 37 percent who had undergone microfracture.

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