(NaturalNews) Researchers from University Hospitals Leuven in Belgium have made a fascinating new discovery that could change the way people with anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears are treated and rehabilitated. After hypothesizing that modern medicine had missed something with regards to the true anatomical structure of the knee, a duo of surgeons from the institution stumbled upon a previously unknown ligament located on the front of the knee, which they say plays a major role in the function of the ACL and the knee as a whole.
It has long remained a mystery why some knee patients with ACL-repaired knees continue to suffer afterwards from a condition known as "pivot shift," in which the repaired knees will suddenly give way during certain activities. Orthopedic surgeons Dr. Steven Claes and Dr. Johan Bellemans had been trying to figure out the answer to this conundrum for some four years, when one day they unearthed an 1879 article by a long-deceased French surgeon that gave them fresh insight.
This surgeon, known as Paul Segond, proposed at the time that there had to exist an additional ligament besides the ACL on the anterior of the human knee that allowed for pivot shift to occur, a presupposition that subsequent research eventually confirmed. Segond speculated that, in addition to the ACL, the medial collateral, the posterior cruciate and the lateral collateral -- these are the four known knee ligaments -- there had to be at least one other ligament present somewhere on the knee to keep it stable.
Unknown ligament buried in overlooked science for more than 130 years
And he was right. After personally observing what he notated in early medical literature as being a "pearly, resistant fibrous band" located on the outside of the knee, Segond had unwittingly identified the very structure that Drs. Claes and Bellamans have now brought back into the scientific spotlight. But Segond never named this ligament, and somehow it got buried in the annals of antique science and was never talked about again -- until now.
After dredging up 41 cadavers and studying their knees up close, the two surgeons learned that all but one of them possessed this obscure ligament, which they dubbed the anterolateral ligament, or ALL. Together, the duo came to the conclusion that the cause of pivot shift in patients who have undergone ACL repairs is an additional injury in the ALL, an astounding finding that was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Anatomy.
"We thought, something is still not right" in that knee, stated Dr. Claes to The New York Times about how he and his colleague eventually came to the conclusions they did.
Equipped with this new knowledge, Drs. Claes and Bellamans went back to reevaluate some of the scans from knee injuries that they personally worked on in the past. And sure enough, many of them revealed torn ALLs in addition to torn ACLs, something they had completely overlooked due to a previous lack of knowledge.
"We think that it's quite likely many people who tear an ACL also tear an ALL," he added, noting that, despite the new findings, this is still speculative. "We still have a lot of work to do," he concluded, admitting at the same time that this is "an important step forward."
Dr. Claes and his colleagues plan to present these new findings at multiple orthopedic surgery conferences in the coming months. The team also plans to begin incorporating the discovery into practice by devising new methods of surgery and treatment that treat ALL tears as well as ACL tears.