3D dynamic in vivo imaging of joint motion: application to measurement of anterior cruciate ligament function


More than 400,000 anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries occur annually in the United States, 70% of which are non-contact. A severe consequence of ACL injury is the increased risk of early-onset of osteoarthritis (OA). Importantly, the increased risk of OA persists even if the ACL is surgically reconstructed. Thus, due to the long term physical consequences and high financial burden of treatment, injury prevention and improved reconstruction techniques are critical. However, the causes of non-contact ACL injuries remain unclear, which has hindered efforts to develop effective training programs targeted at preventing these injuries. Improved understanding of the knee motions that increase the risk of ACL injury can inform more effective injury prevention strategies. Furthermore, there is presently limited in vivo data to describe the function of ACL under dynamic loading conditions. Understanding how the ACL functions to stabilize the knee joint under physiologic loading conditions can inform design criteria for grafts used in ACL reconstruction. Grafts that more accurately mimic the native function of the ACL may help prevent these severe long term degenerative changes in the knee joint after injury.

To this end, measurements of in vivo ACL function during knee motion are critical to understanding how non-contact ACL injuries occur and the function of the ACL in stabilizing the joint during activities of daily living. Specifically, identifying the knee motions that increase ACL length and strain can elucidate the mechanisms of non-contact ACL injury, as a taut ligament is more likely to fail. Furthermore, measuring ACL elongation patterns during dynamic activity can inform the design criteria for grafts used in reconstructive surgery. To obtain measurements, 3D imaging techniques that can be used to measure dynamic in vivo ACL elongation and strain at high temporal and spatial resolution are needed.

Thus, in this dissertation a method of measuring knee motion and ACL function during dynamic activity in vivo using high-speed biplanar radiography in combination with magnetic resonance (MR) imaging was developed. In this technique, 3D surface models of the knee joint are created from MR images and registered to high-speed biplanar radiographs of knee motion. The use of MR imaging to model the joint allows for visualization of bone and soft tissue anatomy, in particular the attachment site footprints of the ligaments. By registering the bone models to biplanar radiographs using software developed in this dissertation, the relative positions of the bones and associated ligament attachment site footprints at the time of radiographic imaging can be reproduced. Thus, measurements of knee kinematics and ligament function during dynamic activity can be obtained at high spatial and temporal resolution.

We have applied the techniques developed in this dissertation to obtain novel dynamic in vivo measurements of the mechanical function of the knee joint. Specifically, the physiologic elongation and strain behaviors of the ACL during gait and single-legged jumping were measured. Additionally, the dynamic function of the patellar tendon during single legged jumping was measured. The findings of this dissertation have helped to elucidate the knee kinematics that increase ACL injury vulnerability by identifying the dynamic motions that result in elongation and strain in the ACL. Furthermore, the findings of this dissertation have provided critical data to inform design criteria for grafts used in reconstructive surgery such that reconstructive techniques better mimic the physiologic function of the ACL.

The methodologies described in this dissertation can be applied to study the mechanical behavior of other joints such as the spine, and other soft tissues, such as articular cartilage, under various loading conditions. Therefore, these methods may have a significant impact on the field of biomechanics as a whole, and may have applicability to a number of musculoskeletal applications.





Englander, Zoë Alexandra (2019). 3D dynamic in vivo imaging of joint motion: application to measurement of anterior cruciate ligament function. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/20081.


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