Supporting Research Yields Benefits for Young Athletes

By: Sharon Johnson

Sharon Johnson

For Neal S. ElAttrache, MD, treating student athletes has been a favorite aspect of his Los Angeles-based sports medicine practice.

“Nothing is more rewarding than applying knowledge based on research and advanced surgical skills to help a young patient recover from a serious injury and regain the ability to excel at his or her sport of choice,” says Dr. ElAttrache. “When the patient is able to compete at an even higher level following surgery, it’s all the more gratifying. These are the cases you live for.”

One such case was a patient who was a top student at one of the country’s premier prep schools. She was playing on two varsity teams—soccer and track and field—when she tore her anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in one knee. In a matter of seconds she was benched for the season, possibly much longer.

These injuries can be devastating for young athletes. Beyond surgery and rehabilitation, they must come to terms with physical disability and inability to do their part for the team. For this patient, still more was at stake: an offer of scholarship support—tied to her joining the varsity track team—from an Ivy League university.

Measurable success
Fortunately, surgery went according to plan and the patient committed herself to the hard work necessary for a successful rehabilitation. Approximately 10 months after surgery, she achieved a new personal best and helped her 4 × 400 relay team take the number-one slot in a national competition.

This case might not have had such a happy ending without research such as the following studies, funded by the Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation (OREF):

  • Knowledge of which patients would benefit most from surgical knee repair—Donald C. Fithian, MD, Principal Investigator (PI)
  • Prevention of long-term damage of cartilage after injury, decreasing the risk of further orthopaedic problems—Lee D. Kaplan, MD, PI
  • Identifying differences between male and female genes and hormones associated with anterior cruciate ligament remodeling as a basis for strategies to reduce the incidence of ligament injuries among female athletes—James R. Slauterbeck, MD, PI

“Every day, research enhances my work with patients,” explained Dr. ElAttrache. “Contributing to OREF helps me provide better care.”

For more information, visit the OREF exhibit, located in Moscone South/exhibit level concourse, or visit

Sharon Johnson is vice president of communications for OREF.