Ligaments are bands of tough, elastic tissue that bind bones together at joints so that they can move. When a ligament is torn, it can either be repaired or replaced. Repair is the first choice, but often a torn ligament heals poorly and must be replaced. Most replacements come from connective tissues in the patient's own body (such as a knee tendon). Rehabilitation and return to full strength can take one to two years.
As anyone who participates in sports or other strenuous activities knows, the knee is very vulnerable to injury. When the knee is subjected to abrupt or progressive stress, one of its four ligaments is likely to tear. Repair or replacement of these ligaments is a major problem. To reduce rehabilitation time and provide greater strength, the W. L. Gore Company developed an artificial ligament made out of Gortex. Gortex is a porous (full of small holes) update of Teflon (a tough material invented in 1969 best known for its use in waterproof materials). The six-inch-long Gortex ligament consists of about 1,000 fibers braided together for strength. The ligament is attached to the bones above and below the knee with stainless steel screws and soon becomes naturally anchored as the bone grows into and through the Gortex.
Rehabilitation with the Gortex ligament can be as short as six weeks, and the procedure itself is usually done as outpatient arthroscopic surgery. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved use of synthetic ligaments in humans in 1988. The approval, however, was only for patients who had tried and failed with a natural implant.
[See also Artificial hip ]