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What's Normal in Basketball Players' Knees Is Abnormal in the Rest of Us.

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"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.

But in reality, "it's not a tear and the necessity for surgery is incorrect," says Grelsamer, author of the forthcoming book "What Your Doctor Won't Tell You About Knee Pain and MRIs," due out from Warner Books in February 2002.

"The concept of getting an MRI prior to athletic activities is theoretically reasonable. Whether or not it's cost-effective is a different story," he says. "Is it worth the money to get MRIs in all these people before hand?"

Grelsamer adds that "an experienced knee doctor can recognize on the MRI many of the so-called false-positives or tears that aren't really tears," he says.

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