JBJS Editor’s Choice: Biomechanics Alone or Biomechanics + UKA for Painful Varus Knees?

UKA vs PTO Survivorship.gifIn the January 18, 2017 issue of JBJS, Krych et al. report on early and mid-term results of the two most common surgical procedures to help patients 55 years old and younger with varus knees and medial compartment osteoarthritis: unicompartmental knee arthroplasty (UKA) and proximal tibial osteotomy (PTO). PTO realigns the knee’s biomechanics by moving the weight-bearing line laterally toward the more normal side of the knee. UKA corrects the biomechanical issue and removes and resurfaces damaged tissue.

In this comparative cohort study of 240 patients between 18 and 55 years old, patients receiving UKA had better functional scores and reached a higher activity level early after surgery. UKA survivorship (defined as avoiding revision to total knee arthroplasty [TKA]) was 94% at an average of 5.8 years, while PTO survivorship was 77% at an average of 7.2 years.

The functional outcomes should come as no surprise, seeing as arthroplasty replaces/denervates the subchondral bone in the medial compartment, while also correcting the alignment issue. A reasonable trauma-related analog to this can be seen with total hip arthroplasty providing generally better functional outcomes for displaced femoral neck fractures than internal fixation because the latter approach does not anatomically restore hip biomechanics. In both those cases, the mechanics of a weight-bearing joint are maintained/improved without relying on bone to heal. In contrast, with PTO and other bone and joint “preservation” approaches, the natural mechanics are altered.

However, I do not think we should extend this argument beyond what these data from Krych et al. provide. The mean length of follow-up in the UKA group was only 5.8 years. We need 20- to 30-year results in that group so we can truly understand the risk of further arthroplasty revision, polyethylene replacement, periprosthetic fracture, etc. I therefore truly hope to see follow-up reporting in a decade on this cohort of patients.

We must also recognize that these patients were selected for a surgical intervention based on their functional demand. The baseline characteristics of both groups suggest that those who had higher loading “habits” received an osteotomy.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

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