WATERLOO — An injured joint can mean the end of an athlete’s career.
But one of the most debilitating knee injuries athletes encounter may soon be preventable because of research being conducted at the University of Waterloo.
Naveen Chandrashekar, assistant professor of mechanical and mechatronics engineering at the university, gave a tour of his laboratory on Tuesday morning to explain the innovative research he and his team are conducting on the anterior cruciate ligament — more commonly known as the ACL.
Chandrashekar has designed a simulator to enact the movements of a human knee to measure the damage inflicted on the ACL by jumping or running.
Damage to the crucial ligament can ruin an athlete’s career and lead to the early onset of osteoarthritis, said Chandrashekar. The injury can require costly medical care and have a negative impact on a person’s quality of life.
Testing on people is limited because it is difficult to measure the stress on the ACL which sits behind the kneecap.
“If we had to measure it on live people, we would have to find a person to get a sensor (implanted) on their ligament … there are a lot of ethical questions,” said Chandrashekar.
Instead, a sensor is attached to the mechanical ligament on the knee simulator — the only one of its kind. Readings from the sensor provide insight into how different motions and factors like movement from the hip influence the injury.
Explaining the research to Minister of Science and Technology and Cambridge MP Gary Goodyear who was visiting the lab, Chandrashekar said that his findings will be used to develop a series of preventive measures that athletes can take.
“What we plan to do is first design knee braces specifically meant to protect the ACL of high-risk athletes and then we also want to find out who are those people,” said Chandrashekar.
Testing the effectiveness of current knee braces is already well underway because of the diligent work of Chandrashekar’s research assistants Gajendra Hangalur, Ryan Bakker and Amanda Shorter — all students at the university.
“They run the show,” said Chandrashekar.
For Bakker’s master’s thesis, the team hopes to develop a formula to test real athletes and determine if they are at high risk of sustaining an ACL injury. This would ensure they get a knee brace to prevent it from happening.
Because the majority of injuries occur during training rather than competition, Chandrashekar said a brace will be developed for that purpose and other preventive measures involving training will be investigated as well.
In the next five years, Chandrashekar will collaborate with the university’s kinesiology department to develop physical training methods that put less pressure on the ACL.
“That means strengthen the muscles (and) modify some of the activities so that the ACL is not as loaded,” said Chandrashekar.
Ultimately these measures would allow athletes to focus on improving their skills without worrying about injury, and help lengthen their careers, said Chandrashekar.