Objective: Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative, disabling joint disease that affects >10% of the adult population. No effective disease-modifying treatment is available. In the present study, we used joint distraction, a relatively new treatment in which mechanical contact between the articular surfaces is avoided while intraarticular intermittent fluid pressure is maintained, to treat patients with severe OA of the ankle.
Methods: Patients with severe ankle OA (n = 57) who were being considered for joint fusion (arthrodesis) were treated with joint distraction in an open prospective study. In addition, a randomized trial was performed in 17 patients to determine whether joint distraction had a better outcome than debridement. A standardized evaluation protocol (physical examination, assessment of pain, mobility, and functional ability) was used, and changes in radiographic joint space width and subchondral sclerosis were measured. Thirty-eight patients in the open study have been followed up for >1 year, with up to 5 years of followup in 7 of them (mean +/- SD followup 2.8 +/- 0.3 years). Patients in the randomized study have been followed up for 1 year.
Results: Significant clinical benefit was found in three-fourths of the 57 patients in the open prospective study. Most interestingly, the improvement increased over time. Radiographic evaluation showed increased joint space width and decreased subchondral sclerosis. Moreover, joint distraction showed significantly better results than debridement.
Conclusion: The clinical benefit of joint distraction in the treatment of severe OA is proof of the concept. Although the followup remains relatively short and effects over time remain unpredictable, our study creates possibilities for the treatment of severe OA in general. Considering the high prevalence of OA and the lack of a cure for it, joint distraction as a treatment of severe OA may have great medical, social, and economic impact.