By Stephanie Stahl

CHERRY HILL, N.J. (CBS) — There’s a new breakthrough for a common knee injury that allows the body to heal itself and enables patients to avoid painful reconstructive surgery.

This is a collagen implant that’s being used to repair torn ACLs, a ligament in the knee. They’re often injured during sporting activities

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“I just felt it go,” said Phoebe Anderson.

Anderson, 20, was playing Rugby at the University of California San Diego when she tore her ACL, the anterior cruciate ligament.

“It wasn’t painful, but it was it just felt like it ripped,” she said.

It’s become a common sports injury, especially among young females. There are 400,000 yearly ACL tears in the United States that are traditionally repaired with reconstructive surgery using a graft.

“I was like I need to get surgery immediately,” Anderson said.

Instead, she found an alternative with a South Jersey doctor.

“His expertise in sports medicine, that was a big driving factor for me, especially as a student-athlete,” Anderson said.

Dr. Sean McMillan with Virtua Orthopedics is using an implant called BEAR to repair torn ACLs.

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“It’s a collagen implant that allows for the body to harvest its natural healing potential,” McMillan said.

The implant is placed between the torn ACL and then infused with the patient’s own blood. Over time as the ACL grows back together, the implant is absorbed and disappears.

“It acts like a scaffold to let the body regenerate,” McMillan said.

Anderson was McMillan’s first patient to get the implant.

“It just makes more sense naturally to heal the body part rather than replace it,” Anderson said.

Three months after getting the implant, Anderson is regaining her strength in physical therapy.

“It’s not like the other knee, but it’s pretty good,” she said. “I’m out of my brace.”

McMillan says recovery with the implant is less painful and it could also have other more long-term benefits.

“We hear a lot of athletes lose their careers as arthritis creeps in,” McMillan said. “This may be an alternative to keep that arthritis away. This is a great option for a young athlete.”

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The implant is the first FDA-cleared implant to treat torn ACLs.

Stephanie Stahl