Measurement of radiolucent lines at the cement-bone interface was done for all three prosthetic components. Figure 3 shows a radiolucent line of the lateral part of the plateau of the tibial component prosthesis. Radiolucent lines were measured in millimeters.
The total widths of the radiolucent lines at a component of the prosthesis were determined by adding up the widths of the radiolucent lines as measured at the specific component sites defined by Ewald et al. 7 The total widths were added for each zone and for each component. Therefore, the total width of the radiolucent lines is a calculated value and not one measurement. The total widths were recorded independently for the tibial component in the AP and sagittal views, for the femoral component in the sagittal view, and for the patellar prosthesis in the axial view.
For assessment of patellar position, evaluation of patellar subluxation and dislocation was used. For assessment of the patellar prosthesis, the patellar angle, and mediolateral and superoinferior displacement were used. Assessment of patellar displacement included measurement of displacement of the center of the patellar prosthesis relative to the patella. Mediolateral displacement of the patellar prosthesis was assessed on axial views. If the center of the prosthesis was medial or lateral to the center of the patella, medial or lateral displacement was recorded. The relative position of the patellar prosthesis in the sagittal plane was evaluated by the vertical distance between the center of the patellar prosthesis and the center of the patellar articular surface. If the center of the patellar prosthesis was superior or inferior to the center of the patellar articular surface, superior or inferior displacement was seen (Fig 2).
For measurement of component angles (alpha angle, sagittal femoral angle, beta angle, sagittal tibial angle, patellar angle), the interobserver correlation was good. Comparison of the mean differences revealed no significant differences between the measures of the three observers (p > 0.05 each). For the femorotibial shaft angle, the interobserver correlation was good but the comparison of the means indicated significant differences between the single measures (p < 0.02). Results are summarized in Table 1.
Correlation coefficients for the radiolucent lines were generally low except for measurements at the tibial side in the AP view. Calculation of the mean differences indicated significant differences for all components (p < 0.05 each).
The results of interobserver variability of the patellar position determination revealed good correlation for patellar subluxation and dislocation evaluation (Kappa > 0.65). For assessment of patellar mediolateral and superoinferior displacement, however, a low correlation was found (Kappa < 0.35).
The results of radiographic evaluation of total knee arthroplasty of this study are similar to the results described in the literature. For component angles, the results of this study were compared with the data of Mont et al 15 (Table 2). For assessment of radiolucent lines, Ewald 6 suggested that a total sum in millimeters for each component of 4 or less and nonprogressive is probably not significant; 5 to 9 should be closely observed for progression; and 10 or greater signifies possible or impending failure. In the current study, the mean total sum for each component was below the 4 mm limit.
For assessment of the patellar prosthesis, results were similar to the results of Gomes et al. 11 In this series 40 patients were assessed. For the patellar angle, a lateral tilt of 1.8° to 8.4° was found. In all patients the patellar prosthesis was displaced superiorly, and in seven cases there was medial displacement of the patellar prosthesis.
Schneider et al 17 reported that a shift in the position of a prosthetic component is a definite sign of loosening. Ewald 6 stated that a migrating or shifting prosthesis with or without disappearance of radiolucent lines should be considered possible or impending failure. For measurement of component angles, low interobserver variability and low mean score differences were found. Correlation was somewhat higher for the femoral than for the tibial component. The method is shown to be reliable in determining component position and this may be correlated with component loosening.
For the femorotibial shaft angle a good interobserver correlation was found, but the differences of the means between the observers indicated that the method of assessment might be unreliable (p < 0.002). The absolute mean values of the angle were 86°, 88°, and 87° for Observers I, II, and III. Even though the means differed significantly, this is not clinically relevant and the angle can be recommended for radiographic assessment.
Loosening of a prosthetic component is the most frequent causes of failure of a joint. As the importance of a plain radiograph for assessment of total knee arthroplasty loosening is evident, the importance of radiolucent lines has been discussed. 1 Ecker et al 5 reported that radiolucent lines could not be visualized if the central beam was angulated either cephalad or caudad more than 6°. If the central beam was more than 2.5 cm from the tibial plateau, the lines were not seen.
Reckling et al 16 reported that a radiolucent zone at the bone-cement interface was seen under the tibial component in 42 of 59 knees. Flynn 8 reported that, in a series of 200 total knee arthroplasties, the presence of a radiolucent zone occurred in 80% on the tibial side and 0% on the femoral side after a minimum followup of 2 years. The presence of radiolucent lines does not necessarily indicate loosening or surgical failure. 19 Insall et al 12 reported that the design of a prosthetic device affected the incidence of a radiolucent zone and proposed that the zone was related to movement between the implant and bone. Other authors suggested that generation of heat by the bone cement 19 or the biomechanical effect of the cement on the bone 9 are important in development of a radiolucent zone. However, there is no general agreement regarding the mechanism of development of the radiolucent lines. 19
Nevertheless, measurement of radiolucent zones in total knee arthroplasty has been described. 1,16,17 The current results indicate a low interobserver correlation. The means of the measures were significantly different for assessment of radiolucent lines.
Although major radiolucencies are probably the main indicator for implant loosening, the clinical significance of small radiolucent lines for diagnosis of total knee arthroplasty loosening is questionable. Because in the current study measurement of radiolucencies was proven to be unreliable, this method of assessment appears debatable. A more simple system, although less sensitive, probably would be more appropriate. The system of assessment of radiolucent lines is very detailed and numerous, different zones of each component are assessed in two planes. It was suggested that the more complex a system is constructed, the more it is likely that errors occur. Ecker et al 5 stated that the presence of thin radiolucent lines under the tibial plateau did not appear to have clinical significance. Thick lines or lines about all portions of the tibial component indicated significant loosening which usually was associated with symptoms and possible failure. A simple system may only differ between, for example, no or minor radiolucent lines and extensive radiolucent lines.
Some authors suggest that evidence of new radiolucent zone formation after more than 1 postoperative year, or enlargement, even partially, of an existing radiolucent zone could be regarded as loosening. 1,16,17
For assessment of the patella, measurement of the patellar angle and patellar position relative to the femoral condyles was more reliable than assessment of positioning of the patellar prosthesis relative to the patella. This possibly was because of the difficulty of identifying the circumference of the patellar prosthesis.
No rating system is ideal, but if centers use the same reporting system, then relative comparisons will be possible. 6 According to the results of the current study, for radiographic assessment of total knee arthroplasty, the system introduced by the Knee Society in 1989 can be recommended for assessment of angles, including alpha, beta, femorotibial shaft angle, sagittal femoral and tibial component angles, patellar angle, and patellar subluxation and dislocation evaluation. The proposed assessment of radiolucent lines, however, is unreliable and should be reconsidered.
The authors thank Dr. Benedikt Czermak, Department of Radiology, University of Innsbruck, Austria, for his assistance.
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© 2001 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
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