Partial and complete anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries occur in both pediatric and adult populations and can result in loss of joint stability and function. The sigmoidal shape of knee joint function (load-translation curve) under applied loads, includes a low-load region (described by slack length) followed by a high-load region (described by stiffness). However, the impact of age and injury on these parameters is not fully understood. The current objective was to measure the effects of age and injury on the shape of joint function in a porcine model. In response to an applied anterior-posterior tibial load, in situ slack did not change (p>0.05), despite 7-fold increases in joint size. Joint stiffness increased from an average of 10 N/mm in early youth to 47 N/mm in late adolescence (p<0.05). In situ ACL stiffness increased similarly, and changes in in situ joint stiffness and ACL stiffness were highly correlated across ages. With complete ACL injury, in situ slack length increased by 2-fold to 4-fold and in situ stiffness decreased 3-fold to 4-fold across ages (p<0.05). Partial ACL injury resulted in less dramatic, but statistically significant, increases in joint slack and significant decreases in in situ joint stiffness in the adolescent age groups (p<0.05). This work furthers our understanding of the interaction between joint biomechanics and ACL function throughout growth and the impact of ACL injury in the skeletally immature joint.
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