In order to study the effect of intra-operative tensioning on the laxity and strength of healing ligament grafts in an animal model, a method of quantifying graft tension was needed. In this study a sensitive ligament tensioning device was developed to measure accurately the prefixation loads in the rabbit medial collateral ligament (MCL) graft. To verify that reproducible changes in ligament tension could be created with the tensioning device, a group of animals had their MCL grafts replaced at one of three different graft loads (tight, anatomic, or loose). The tensioning device consists of two posts which move relative to one another by means of an axial screw. The movable post, which is inserted into the tibial bone island of the MCL graft has a series of strain gauges which can measure the tension applied to the graft. The stationary post attaches to the tibial shaft, permitting the ligament graft to be tensioned relative to this fixed point. After graft tensioning and fixation, the animals were euthanized immediately postoperatively and their ligament load-deformation behavior was measured using an Instron materials testing machine. Specific measures of low load behavior was taken to quantify ligament laxity. Our results demonstrate that the tensioning device was capable of reproducibly altering prefixation graft load intra-operatively as well as MCL laxity immediately postoperatively. A baseline of laxity values was thus developed to follow changes in this laxity measure for future studies of MCL graft healing in this model.

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