A torn anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, is one of the most common and devastating injuries an athlete can suffer.  It's estimated that 200,000 ACL reconstruction surgeries are performed each year in the United States. Now, new research identifies factors that may lead to a more successful ACL reconstruction.

"What we learned from the study is in older individuals we can use an allograft or cadaver tissue and that works very well, but when we applied that to younger people, their failure rates jumped up to about 20% which is a huge difference," explained Cleveland Clinic's Dr. Kurt Spindler, who led the study.

A team of 17 surgeons from 7 medical institutions formed a group called 'MOON', or Multicenter Orthopaedics Outcomes Network, and evaluated more than 2,300 ACL reconstruction surgeries.

They found that ACL reconstruction using a patient's own ligaments, called auto-graft, versus using ligaments from a donor, called allograft, had a lower failure rate for high school, college and competitive athletes.

And ACL  reconstruction surgery performed on people over 40 years old, held up similarly with both auto-graft and allograft ligaments, with less than 2% failure rate.

Researchers hope that by identifying the right combination of age and ligament-type they can help guide athletes to a successful reconstruction.

"You can control your failure rate. One of the modifiable factors is you can choose your own tissue when you're young in high school and college and that's what we advocate because your failure rate is going to be so much less than with an allograft," said Spindler.

Complete findings are being presented at the annual American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons meeting in New Orleans this week.