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J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2005 Oct;87(10):2276-80.

The variability of femoral rotational alignment in total knee arthroplasty.

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Division of Biomechanical Engineering and the Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-5450, USA.



Several reference axes are used to establish femoral rotational alignment during total knee arthroplasty, but debate continues with regard to which axis is most accurately and easily identified during surgery. Computer-assisted navigation systems have been developed in an attempt to more accurately and consistently align implants during total knee arthroplasty, but it is unknown if navigation systems can improve the accuracy of femoral rotational alignment as compared with that achieved with more traditional techniques involving mechanical guides. The purposes of the present study were to characterize the variability associated with femoral rotational alignment techniques and to determine whether the use of a computer-assisted surgical navigation system reduced this variability.


Eleven orthopaedic surgeons used five alignment techniques (including one computer-assisted technique and four traditional techniques) to establish femoral rotational alignment axes on ten cadaveric specimens, and the orientation of these axes was recorded with use of a navigation system. These derived axes were compared against a reference transepicondylar axis on each femur that was established after complete dissection of all soft tissues.


There was no difference between the mean errors of all five techniques (p > 0.11). Only 17% of the knees were rotated <5 degrees from the reference transepicondylar axis, with alignment errors ranging from 13 degrees of internal rotation to 16 degrees of external rotation. There were significant differences among the surgeons with regard to their ability to accurately establish femoral rotational alignment axes (p < 0.001).


All techniques resulted in highly variable rotational alignment, with no technique being superior. This variability was primarily due to the particular surgeon who was performing the alignment procedure. A navigation system that relies on directly digitizing the femoral epicondyles to establish an alignment axis did not provide a more reliable means of establishing femoral rotational alignment than traditional techniques did.

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