As New England patriots fans will attest, the scariest letters in sports are ACL--as in an anterior cruciate ligament tear, probably the knee injury that ended quarterback Tom Brady's season on Sept. 7. But thanks to the marvels of modern sports medicine, the Pats' superstar should be dissecting defenses again in 2009. Ever since surgeon Frank Jobe revolutionized baseball in the 1970s with the pioneering elbow-repair technique now known as Tommy John surgery, doctors have been developing innovative ways to treat sports injuries. From managing concussions (some 300,000 annually in the U.S.; football players and female athletes are at higher risk) to 'scoping shoulders and knees, modern physicians can restore athletes' abilities, resuscitate their careers--and even save their lives.
TOMMY JOHN SURGERY The L.A. pitcher got the first elbow-ligament replacement in 1974; today 83% of patients come back throwing heat
SPINAL TRAUMA New "hypothermia therapy" may limit dangerous swelling; in 2007, it helped tight end Kevin Everett walk again after a life-threatening injury
CONCUSSIONS Designed with better knowledge of how trauma occurs, high-tech mouth guards and headgear protect vulnerable noggins
ARTHROSCOPIC SURGERY Developed in Japan, it fixes frayed joints with minimal invasion, enabling many athletes to begin rehab in days
RECONSTRUCTIVE KNEE SURGERY About 80,000 ACLs tear annually. Girls are up to eight times as likely to suffer the injury, which sidelined Tiger Woods in June