Articular Cartilage Defects of Knee

Topic updated on 09/18/15 9:50am
  • Spectrum of disease entities from single, focal defects to advanced degenerative disease of articular (hyaline) cartilage
  • Epidemiology
    • incidence
      • 5-10% of people > 40 years old have high grade chondral lesions
    • location
      • chronic ACL tear
        • anterior aspect of lateral femoral chondyle and posterolateral tibial plateau
      • osteochondritis dissecans topic
        • 70% of lesions found in posterolateral aspect of medial femoral condyle
  • Pathophysiology
    • mechanism of injury
      • acute trauma or chronic repetitive overload
        • impaction resulting in cartilage softening; fissuring; flap tears; or delamination
      • the cause of OCD is unknown
    • pathomechanics
      • impaction forces greater than 24 MPa will disrupt normal cartilage
    • cellular biology
      • cartilage injuries have limited spontaneous healing and popensity to worsen overtime
  • See Articular Cartilage Basic Science topic
 Outerbridge Arthroscopic Grading System
Grade 0 Normal cartilage
Grade I Softening and swelling
Grade II Superficial fissures
Grade III Deep fissures, without exposed bone               
Grade IV Exposed subchondral bone
ICRS (International Cartilage Repair Society) Grading System
Grade 0 Normal cartilage
Grade 1 Nearly normal (superficial lesions)
Grade 2 Abnormal (lesions extend < 50% of cartilage depth)
Grade 3 Severely abnormal (>50% of cartilage depth)
Grade 4 Severely abnormal (through the subchondral bone)
  • History
    • commonly present with history of precipitating trauma
    • some defects found incidentally on MRI or arthroscopy
  • Symptoms
    • asymptomatic vs. localized knee pain
    • may complain of effusion, motion deficits, mechanical symptoms (e.g., catching, instability)
  • Physical exam
    • inspection
      • look for background factors that predispose to the formation of articular defects
        • joint laxity
        • malalignment
        • compartment overload
    • motion
      • assess range of motion, ligamentous stability, gait
  • Radiographs
    • indications
      • used to rule out arthritis, bony defects, and check alignment
    • recommended views
      • standing AP, lateral, merchant views 
    • optional views
      • semiflexed 45 deg PA views
        • most sensitive for early joint space narrowing 
      • long-leg alignment views 
        • determine the mechanical axis 
  • CT scan
    • indications
      • better evaluation of bone loss
    • findings
      • used to measure TT-TG when evaluating the patello-femoral joint
  • MRI
    • indication
      • most sensitive for evaluating focal defects
    • views
      • Fat-suppressed T2, proton density, T2 fast spin-echo (FSE) offer improved sensitivity and specificity over standard sequences
      • dGEMRIC (delayed gadolinium-enhanced MRI for cartilage) and T2-mapping are evolving techniques to evaluate cartilage defects and repair 
  • Laboratory
    • may be used to rule out inflammatory disease 
  • Nonoperative
    • rest, NSAIDs, physiotherapy, weight loss
      • indications
        • first line of treatment when symptoms are mild
    • viscosupplementatoin, corticosteroid injections, unloader brace
      • indications
        • controversial 
        • may provide symptomatic relief but healing of defect in unlikely
  • Operative
    • debridement/chondroplasty vs. reconstruction techniques 
      • indications
        • failure of nonoperative management 
        • acute osteochondral fractures resulting in full-thickness loss of cartilage
      • technique
        • treatment is individualized, there is no one best technique for all defects
        • decision-making algorithm is based on several factors
          • patient factors
            • age
            • skeletal maturity
            • low vs. high demand activities
            • ability to tolerate extended rehabilitation
          • defect factors
            • size of defect
            • location
            • contained vs. uncontained
            • presence or absence of subchondral bone involvement
      • basic algorithm (may vary depending on published data)
        • femoral condyle defect
          • correct malaligment, ligament instability, meniscal deficiency
          • measure size 
            • < 4 cm2 = microfracture or osteochondral autograft transfer (pallative if older/low demand)
            • > 4 cm2 = osteochondral allograft transplantation or autologous chondrocyte implantation
        • patellofemoral defect
          • address patellofemoral maltracking and malalignment
          • measure size 
            • < 4 cm2 = microfracture or osteochondral autograft transfer
            • > 4 cm2 =  autologous chondrocyte implantation (microfracture if older/low demand)
Surgical Techniques
  • Debridement / Chondroplasty
    • overview
      • goal is to debride loose flaps of cartilage
      • may relieve mechanical symptoms from loose chondral fragments
      • short-term benefit in 50-70% of patients
    • benefits 
      • include simple arthroscopic procedure, faster rehabilitation
    • limitations
      • problem is exposed subchondral bone or layers of injured cartilage
      • unknown natural history of progression after treatment
  • Fixation of Unstable Fragments
    • overview
      • need osteochondral fragment with adequate subchondral bone
    • technique
      • debride underlying nonviable tissue
      • consider drilling subchondral bone or adding local bone graft
      • fix with absorbable or nonabsorbable screws or devices
    • benefits
      • best results for unstable osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) fragments in patients with open physis
    • limitations
      • lower healing rates in skeletally mature patients
      • nonabsorbable fixation (headless screws) should be removed at 3-6 months 
  • Marrow Stimulation Techniques 
    • overview
      • goal is to allow access of marrow elements into defect to stimulate the formation of reparative tissue
      • includes microfracture, abrasion chondroplasty, osteochondral drilling
    • microfracture technique 
      • defect is prepared with stable vertical walls and the calcified cartilage layer is removed
      • awls are used to make multiple perforations through the subchondral bone 3 - 4 mm apart 
      • protected weight bearing and continuous passive motion (CPM) are used while mesenchymal stem cells mature into mainly fibrocartilage  
    • benefits
      • include cost-effectiveness, single-stage, arthroscopic
      • best results for acute, contained cartilage lesions less than 2 cm x 2cm
    • limitations
      • poor results for larger defects >2 cm x 2cm
      • does not address bone defects
      • requires limitation of weight bearing for 6 - 8 weeks
  • Osteochondral autograft / Mosaicplasty
    • overview
      • goal is to replace a cartilage defect in a high weight bearing area with normal autologous cartilage and bone plug(s) from a lower weight bearing area
      • chondrocytes remain viable, bone graft is incorporated into subchondral bone and overlying cartilage layer heals. 
    • technique
      • a recipient socket is drilled at the site of the defect
      • a single or multiple small cylinders of normal articular cartilage with underlying bone are cored out from lesser weight bearing areas (periphery of trochlea or notch)
      • plugs are then press-fit into the defect
    • limitations
      • size constraints and donor site morbidity limit usage of this technique
      • matching the size and radius of curvature of cartilage defect is difficult
      • fixation strength of graft initially decreases with initial healing response
        • weight bearing should be delayed 3 months 
    • benefits 
      • include autologous tissue, cost-effectiveness, single-stage, may be performed arthroscopically
  • Osteochondral allograft transplantation 
    • overview 
      • goal is to replace cartilage defect with live chondrocytes in mature matrix along with underlying bone
      • fresh, refrigerated grafts are used which retain chondrocyte viability
      • may be performed as a bulk graft (fixed with screws) or shell (dowels) grafts
    • technique
      • match the size and radius of curvature of articular cartilage with donor tissue
      • a recipient socket is drilled at the site of the defect 
      • an osteochondral dowel of the appropriate size is cored out of the donor 
      • the dowel is press-fit into place
    • benefits 
      • include ability to address larger defects, can correct significant bone loss, useful in revision of other techniques
    • limitations
      • limited availability and high cost of donor tissue
      • live allograft tissue carries potential risk of infection 
  • Autologous chondrocyte implantation (ACI) 
    • overview
      • cell therapy with goal of forming autologous "hyaline-like" cartilage
    • technique 
      • arthroscopic harvest of cartilage from a lesser weight bearing area
      • in the lab, chondrocytes are released from matrix and are expanded in culture
      • defect is prepared and chondrocytes are then injected under a periosteal patch sewn over the defect during a second surgery
    • benefits 
      • may provide better histologic tissue than marrow stimulation
      • long term results comparable to microfracture in most series
      • include regeneration of autologous tissue, can address larger defects
    • limitations 
      • must have full-thickness cartilage margins around the defect
      • open surgery
      • 2-stage procedure
      • prolonged protection necessary to allow for maturation
  • Patellar cartilage unloading procedures
    • Maquet (tibia tubercle anteriorization)
      • indicated only for distal pole lesions
      • only elevate 1 cm or else risk of skin necrosis
      • contraindications
        • superior patellar arthrosis (scope before you perform the surgery)
    • Fulkerson alignment surgery (tibia tubercle anteriorization and medialization  post 
      • indications (controversial)
        • lateral and distal pole lesions 
        • increased Q angle
      • contraindications
        • superior medial patellar arthrosis (scope before you perform the surgery) 
        • skeletal immaturity
  • Matrix-associated autologous chondrocyte implantation
    • overview
      • example is "MACI" 
      • cells are cultured and embedded in a matrix or scaffold
      • matrix is secured with fibrin glue or sutures
    • benefits
      • include ability to perform without suturing, may be performed arthroscopically
    • limitations
      • 2-stage procedure
      • in worldwide use/evaluation- not available in the USA


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Qbank (7 Questions)

(SBQ07.32) A patient with a symptomatic chondral defect undergoes the arthroscopic procedure seen in Figure A. The reparative tissue would best be described as which of the following? Topic Review Topic
FIGURES: A          

1. Fibrocartilage
2. Fibrous tissue
3. Elastofibroma
4. Hyaline cartilage
5. Chondromalacia

(OBQ13.203) What type of tissue is formed by the activation of marrow mesenchymal cells following subchondral drilling of an 8x7 mm osteochondral defect? Topic Review Topic

1. Elastic cartilage
2. Fibrocartilage
3. Hyaline cartilage
4. Trabecular bone
5. Hypertrophic chondrocytes

(OBQ11.1) A 24-year-old female has moderate arthrosis of the medial facet of the patella and the medial femoral condyle. Which of the following procedures is contraindicated? Topic Review Topic

1. Anterior (Maquet) tibial tubercle osteotomy
2. Anteromedial (Fulkerson) tibial tubercle osteotomy
3. Anterolateral tibial tubercle osteotomy
4. Medial opening wedge high tibial osteotomy
5. Lateral closing wedge high tibial osteotomy

(OBQ10.257) Following a medial femoral condyle osteochondral autograft mosaicplasty, which of the following statements best describes the fixation of the graft? Topic Review Topic

1. Graft fixation strength increases linearly with time until subchondral union at 3 months
2. Graft fixation strength initially decreases during the early healing phase, and then increases with subchondral bone healing
3. Graft fixation strength does not change during the first 3 months following surgery
4. Graft fixation strength is enhanced by early weight bearing
5. Graft fixation strength initially increases over the first 6 weeks, then recedes with bony remodeling

(OBQ08.94) A 32-year-old female is referred to you for definitive treatment of a symptomatic focal chondral defect on her medial femoral condyle. A photograph from a recent diagnostic arthroscopy shows the defect (Figure A), which measured 25 x 25mm after debridement. What surgical treatment would you recommend? Topic Review Topic
FIGURES: A          

1. Osteochondral autograft with 1-2 plugs
2. Osteochondral allograft
3. Microfracture
4. Unicompartment arthoplasty
5. Abrasion arthroplasty

(OBQ06.186) All of the following are acceptable scenarios for the use of autologous chondrocyte implantation (ACI) in the patellofemoral joint EXCEPT: Topic Review Topic

1. Grade 4 lesion of the medial femoral condyle
2. Grade 4 lesion of the trochlea
3. Joint space narrowing on Merchant view
4. Varus mechanical axis on standing full length radiograph
5. Concomitant anteromedial tibial tubercle transfer osteotomy (Fulkerson's)

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