Background: The ability of autologous chondrocyte transplantation to produce and maintain an effective articular cartilage repair under high mechanical demands has not been investigated.
Hypothesis: Autologous chondrocyte transplantation provides a reliable and durable repair of full-thickness knee articular cartilage lesions in high-demand athletes.
Study design: Case series; Level of evidence, 4.
Methods: A total of 45 soccer players were evaluated 41 +/- 4 months after autologous chondrocyte transplantation for their ability to return to soccer, the timing of their return, skill level, and functional outcome rating by the Tegner activity rating scale score and Brittberg score. The factors influencing the return to sport were analyzed.
Results: Of these players, 72% reported good to excellent results, with significant overall improvement of Tegner activity rating scale scores; 33% returned to soccer, including 83% of competitive-level players and 16% of recreational players. Of the returning players, 80% returned to the same skill level and 87% maintained their ability to play soccer at 52 +/- 8 months postoperatively. Players who successfully returned to soccer were significantly younger and had a shorter preoperative duration of symptoms than did patients who did not return to the sport. Concomitant adjuvant procedures did not adversely affect the ability to return to soccer.
Conclusion: Repair of knee articular cartilage lesions by autologous chondrocyte transplantation in high-performance athletes is particularly successful in younger, competitive athletes with limited preoperative intervals.