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For example, basketball jumpers tended to have an abnormality in one of the tendons in their knee. Perhaps they may benefit from using a special, spring-loaded floor that decreases the amount of impact on the joints when they jump up for a rebound. "These floors provide an additional cushion over wood or cement," Major says. "Such floors are not widely distributed in colleges, but they allow for a better cushion when a player jumps about four feet and comes down because they absorb the stress that goes through the knee."

Majors looked at MRIs of the knees of 11 Duke basketball players before basketball season and again after the season ended. She found that 16 of 22 knees had bone bruises, nine had cartilage abnormalities and three had abnormality in the patellar tendon, a central tendon in the knee. However just one of the players complained of knee pain and that patient's MRI showed another knee problem.

"And then in the pros, if you know what is considered 'normal' and then the player gets an MRI for knee pain, you are not as likely to attribute the knee pain to what is 'normal'," she says.

John E. Madewell, MD, professor of radiology in the diagnostic imaging division at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston is familiar with Major's work.

"What she is concerned with is that if a patient sustains an injury and you don't know if what you see on the MRI is related to the injury or something that is preexisting," he tells WebMD.

"It's feasible to do baseline MRIs on all college basketball players [but] MRI is costly so there would be a financial impact," he says. "More studies would be needed if something like this were to take place in all college athletes."

He says that studies would have to clearly show that the benefits of such screening outweigh its costs.

Ronald P. Grelsamer, MD, chief of knee and hip surgery at Maimonides Hospital and an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Joint Diseases, both in New York has this to say: "I agree with the premise that a lot of tears are really not tears. People are very commonly told that they have tears, and because of that they need surgery," he says.

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