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Bull Hosp Jt Dis. 2003;61(3-4):114-7.

The effects of radiofrequency bipolar thermal energy on human meniscal tissue.

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NYU-Hospital for Joint Diseases, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, 301 East 17th Street, New York, New York 10003, USA.


This study performed the first in vitro histological analysis of the effects of bipolar thermal energy on human meniscal tissue. Sixteen fresh human menisci were mounted on a cutting block and placed in a water bath simulating an arthroscopic environment. Each specimen was divided into four sections and randomized to one of four treatment options: 1. thermal ablation with a bipolar multielectrode 3 mm Covac wand (power 3 setting); 2. thermal ablation with a bipolar multielectrode 3 mm Covac wand (power setting 7); 3. resection with a scalpel blade; and 4. resection with a motorized 4.5 full-radius resector. Six micron sections were cut and stained with Hematoxylin and Eosin and Masson's trichrome stain. Menisci were evaluated for the contour of the cut edge: straight, jagged, frayed, or combined. The zone of thermal necrosis and zone of thermal alteration were determined by examining the differential staining of the connective tissue and measuring the affected area. Menisci treated with the bipolar thermal probe were noted to have a smoother contoured edge in comparison to motorized cutters. The zone of thermal penetration for the Arthrocare power setting 3 averaged 0.18 mm (range: 0.09 to 0.20; SD 0.04) and for Arthrocare power setting 7 averaged 0.33 mm (range: 0.26 to 0.36; SD 0.03). The difference in thermal penetration between Arthrocare power settings 3 and 7 was 0.15 mm. This was statistically significant at p < 0.0001 (95% CI: 0.11 to 0.19 mm). The zone of thermal penetration was non-existent for the shaver and scalpel groups. This study provides the first histological description of the effects of bipolar radiofrequency energy on meniscal tissue. It demonstrates that there is intra-substance thermal penetration and alteration of the meniscal tissue. Its clinical significance is unclear and further in vivo studies are needed to address its clinical applicability.

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