U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, CO-- Researchers at the University of North Carolina Injury Prevention Research Center, Duke University and Andrews Air Force Base, MD, joined forces for a $2.8-million study of risk factors for a common knee injury among athletes and service members.

The prospective cohort study began by enrolling 1,600 Air Force cadets this past summer. The research will continue over a four-year period and examines the human movement risk factors involved in injuries to the knee’s anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). Most ACL injuries are sports related and occur when there is no direct physical contact between athletes. ACL injuries are also common in military training.

“We need to not just know how to repair ACL injuries; we also need to know how to prevent them,” said Major Dr. John Tokish, an orthopedic surgeon and lead investigator for the study. “This study will give us that knowledge.”

Similar studies have been initiated at the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Military Academy.

“A common protocol is being following followed across all three academies, so all the data can ultimately be combined,” said Major Tim Mazzola, the co-lead investigator for the study.

Upon entry into the study, cadets complete a baseline questionnaire that collects basic demographic data, as well as information about their injury history and recent sports participation.

Being able to enroll a large number of physically active men and women is what makes the study possible, Mazzola said. Investigators are able to track over time any ACL injuries that may occur, as these will be treated in the academy’s central orthopedics department.

Funding for the study comes from the National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Skin Disorders, a component of the National Institutes of Health. The American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine provided funds for a preliminary “pilot” investigation conducted in 2002 to 2003.