Tunnel widening in anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction: a prospective evaluation of hamstring and patella tendon grafts

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Abstract

We report a prospective series evaluating the incidence and degree of tunnel widening in a well-matched series of patients receiving a hamstring or patella tendon graft for anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) deficiency. We correlated tunnel widening with clinical factors, knee scores, KT-1000 and isokinetic muscle strength to determine the clinical significance of this finding. Seventy-three patients at least 12 months post-ACL reconstruction were evaluated. Thirty-eight patients had received a doubled semitendinous and gracilis graft and 35 a bone-patella tendon-bone graft. All patients underwent a similar endoscopic procedure and accelerated postoperative rehabilitation. Tunnel widening was determined using standardized anteroposterior (AP) and lateral X-rays adjusted for magnification. A limited series of MRIs was performed to validate these measurements. There was a significant difference in the degree of tunnel widening between the two groups. The mean increase in femoral tunnel area in the hamstring group was 100.4% compared with a decrease of 25% in the patella tendon group (P = < 0.0001). In the tibial tunnel the mean increase in the hamstring group was 73.9% compared with a decrease of 2.1% in the patella tendon group (P = < 0.0001). The MRIs validated the plain film measurements. Tunnel widening did not correlate with the clinical findings, knee scores, KT-1000 or isokinetic muscle strength. Tunnel widening is marked in the hamstring group. Tunnel widening does not correlate with instability or a poor clinical outcome in the short term. The long-term implications of this finding are still to be determined.

Received: 11 March 1998 Accepted: 14 September 1998