Objective: Meniscectomy-induced osteoarthritis may be mechanically based. We asked how meniscectomy alters time-dependent deformation of physiologically loaded articular cartilage. We hypothesized that meniscectomy alters nominal strain in tibial articular cartilage, and that meniscectomy affects cartilage thickness recovery following cessation of loading.
Methods: A cyclic load simulating normal gait was applied to four sheep knees. A custom device was used to obtain MR images of cartilage at 4.7T during cyclic loading. Articular cartilage thickness and nominal strain were measured every 2.5 min during 1h of cyclic loading, and during 2.5h after cessation of loading.
Results: Following meniscectomy the loaded joints rapidly developed high strain centrally and minimal strain peripherally. Maximum nominal strains after 1h of loading were about 55% in the intact knees and 72% in the meniscectomized knees. Nominal strains in the peripheral tibial cartilage were significantly reduced in the meniscectomized knees. Strain recovery was markedly prolonged in the meniscectomized knees.
Conclusions: With meniscectomy, tibial articular cartilage in the central load bearing region remains chronically deformed and dehydrated, even after cessation of loading. Post-meniscectomy osteoarthritis may be initiated in this region by direct damage to the cartilage matrix, or by altering the hydration of the tissue. In peripheral regions, reduced loading and strain may facilitate subchondral vascular invasion, and endochondral ossification. This is consistent with the central fibrillation and peripheral osteophyte formation seen in post-meniscectomy osteoarthritis.