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Leslie J. Bisson, MD

Cleaning up loose cartilage is not always beneficial, according to a study led by Leslie J. Bisson, MD. The finding could impact athletes and seniors and reduce health care costs.

New Paper Challenges Current Thinking on Orthopaedic Surgery

Published July 26, 2017

Leslie J. Bisson, MD, has led a study — published in The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery — that challenges a surgical practice used for decades during arthroscopic knee surgery.

When treating meniscal tears — one of the most common orthopaedic surgical procedures — surgeons also have clipped and smoothed any dislodged cartilage they found in the belief it was helping patients. But the new study finds that practice does not benefit the patient.

Potential ‘Dramatic Impact’ on Costs, Outcomes, More

The researchers found faster recovery rates for the patients who did not have dislodged cartilage removed. These patients also reported less pain, and one year later, their results were identical to those of patients whose cartilage was removed.

“Those with less surgery got better faster in comparison with the people we did more surgery on,” said Bisson, professor and chair of orthopaedics.

The finding was so surprising that an editor at The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery also published a commentary that said: “The conclusion that unstable cartilage lesions do not need debridement could have a dramatic impact on practice management, save health-care dollars and improve early patient outcomes.”

UBMD Doctors No Longer Debriding Knee Cartilage

The study followed 190 patients who were having arthroscopic partial meniscectomies (APM). Of those, 98 received debridement of the damaged cartilage and 92 did not receive debridement. Both groups had the same results one year after surgery, but prior to that, the group without debridement had less pain and better function than those who had the cartilage trimmed and smoothed.

“That was very surprising to us,” Bisson said. “We are bringing those patients back and doing X-rays at five years to see if it made a difference in their arthritis.”

In the meantime, the surgeons at UBMD Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine, where Bisson and the other doctors involved in the study practice, are no longer debriding knee cartilage when repairing meniscal tears.

“That’s a marked change. In my group, with five sports medicine doctors, we do close to 1,000 APMs a year,” he said.

A Call to ‘Question Everything’ Not Evidence-Based

A meniscus is a little cartilage cushion on the inside and outside of the knee, and it can break down in middle age, or it can become damaged by trauma as gentle as squatting down to get something out of a cupboard or to line up a putt on the golf course.

“You stand up and you feel something catch in your knee,” Bisson said.

Doctors check for arthritis — the tearing or dislodgement of articular cartilage called chondral lesions — using X-rays when they are preparing to treat a meniscus in the knee. But sometimes low-level arthritis is not visible, and doctors find it only when they are inside the knee, Bisson said. At that point, doctors have always opted to clip and smooth any loose cartilage.

Bisson expects that not everyone will embrace a challenge to the way such injuries have always been treated.

“One of the things we say in surgery is you can’t practice based on the last study that was done. Hopefully this will push others to investigate this topic and consider things they are doing on a daily basis,” he said. “We should question everything we are doing that is not based on evidence.”

American Academy Also Distributed Study

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons also distributed the study, “Patient Outcomes After Observation Versus Debridement of Unstable Chondral Lesions During Partial Meniscectomy: The Chondral Lesions and Meniscus Procedures (ChAMP) Randomized Controlled Trial,” in its weekly collection of papers of note.

Co-authors from the Department of Orthopaedics are:

Co-authors from the Department of Biostatistics in the School of Public Health and Health Professions are:

  • Zehua Zhou, a student
  • Jiwei Zhao, PhD, assistant professor