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Osteonecrosis of the knee: current clinical concepts.

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Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, Hospital for Special Surgery, New York, New York, USA.


Osteonecrosis of the knee should be differentiated into two main categories: (1) primary, spontaneous, or idiopathic osteonecrosis and (2) secondary osteonecrosis (e.g., secondary to factors such as steroid therapy, systemic lupus erythematosus, alcoholism, Caisson decompression sickness, Gaucher's disease, hemoglobinopathies, etc.). Spontaneous or primary osteonecrosis of the knee presents with an acute knee pain in elderly patients. It is three times more common in women than in men. Traumatic and vascular theories have been proposed as a causative factor of osteonecrosis of the knee, but the precise etiology still remains speculative. High index of clinical awareness and a good history and physical examination are essential to make an early, accurate diagnosis. Plain radiographs are often normal during the early course of the disease and, in such instances, radioisotope bone scan and magnetic resonance imaging may be helpful. In the early stage of the disease, nonoperative treatment is indicated and many patients, if diagnosed early, have a benign course with a satisfactory pain relief and a good knee function. In patients with advanced stage of the disease, treatment options include arthroscopic debridement, curettage or drilling of the lesion, bone grafting, high tibial osteotomy, use of osteochondral allograft, and unicompartmental or total knee arthroplasty. The choice of treatment should be based on factors such as age of the patient, severity of symptoms, activity level and functional demands on the knee, site and stage of the lesion, and extent of deformity and secondary osteoarthritis. The clinical features and treatment of steroid-induced osteonecrosis of the knee are briefly discussed. In recent years, "postmeniscectomy" osteonecrosis has been reported, but at present its prevalence and pathophysiology remain unknown. It is possible that this may be a preexisting condition that was not recognized at the time of initial consultation or osteonecrosis may develop after meniscectomy in occasional cases.

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