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The length of the patellar tendon after unicompartmental and total knee replacement

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Patella infera may occur after reconstruction of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), high tibial osteotomy and total knee replacement (TKR). Restriction of movement of the knee and pain may result. Our aim was to compare the incidence and to assess the effects of patella infera after TKR and unicompartmental knee replacement (UKR).

We reviewed radiographs of the knees of 84 patients who had had either TKR or UKR as part of a randomised, controlled trial. The length of the patellar tendon was measured on serial radiographs taken before, at eight months and at five years after operation.

There was no significant change in the length of the patellar tendon after UKR, but a significant reduction was observed after TKR. Five years after the operation, the shortening of the tendon had increased to a mean of 3.5 mm. Of the knees with TKR reviewed at five years, 34% developed patella infera, defined as 10% or more of shortening, compared with 5% of those with UKR. Shortening was greatest in those knees which had required a lateral release; in this subgroup the mean shortening was 7.2 mm. Shortening correlated with restriction of movement and pain in the knee.

Our study has shown that patella infera develops in most patients after TKR with lateral release, and in approximately 25% of patients after TKR without this additional procedure. Patella infera rarely occurs after UKR. It is associated with restriction of movement and pain in the knee. It may be an effect of the more extensive exposure required to perform TKR and may, in part, explain the better clinical results of UKR.

Correspondence should be sent to Mr A. E. Weale at Bristol Royal Infirmary, Marlborough Street, Bristol BS2 8HW, UK.

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