Background: Labral tears commonly cause disabling intra-articular hip pain and are commonly treated with hip arthroscopy. However, the function and role of the labrum are still unclear.
Hypotheses: (1) Flexion, adduction, and internal rotation (a position clinically defined as the position for physical examination known as the impingement test) places greatest circumferential strain on the anterolateral labrum and posterior labrum; (2) extension with external rotation (a position clinically utilized during physical examination to assess for posterior impingement and for anterior instability) places significant circumferential strains on the anterior labrum; (3) abduction with external rotation during neutral flexion-extension (the position the extremity rests in when a patient lies supine) places the greatest load on the lateral labrum.
Study design: Descriptive laboratory study.
Methods: Twelve cadaveric hips (age, 79 years) without labral tears or arthritis were studied. Hips were dissected free of soft tissues, except the capsuloligamentous structures. Differential variable reluctance transducers were placed in the labrum anteriorly, anterolaterally, laterally, and posteriorly to record circumferential strains in all 4 regions as the hip was placed in 36 different positions.
Results: The posterior labrum had the greatest circumferential strains identified; the peak was in the flexed position, in adduction or neutral abduction-adduction. The greatest strains anteriorly were in flexion with adduction. The greatest strains anterolaterally were in full extension. External rotation had greater strains than neutral rotation and internal rotation. The greatest strains laterally were at 90° of flexion with abduction, and external or neutral rotation. In the impingement position, the anterolateral strain increased the most, while the posterior labrum showed decreased strain (greatest magnitude of strain change). When the hip is externally rotated and in neutral flexion-extension or fully extended, the posterior labrum has significantly increased strain, while the anterolateral labrum strain is decreased.
Conclusion: These are the first comprehensive strain data (of circumferential strain) analyzing the whole hip labrum. For the intact labrum, the greatest strain change was at the posterior acetabulum, whereas clinically, acetabular labral tears occur most frequently anterolaterally or anteriorly. The results are consistent with the impingement test as an assessment of anterolateral acetabular labral stress. The hyperextension-rotation test, often used clinically to assess anterior hip instability and posterior impingement, did not show a change in strain anteriorly, but did reveal an increase in strain posteriorly.
Clinical relevance: Although this study does not include muscular forces across the hip joint, it does provide a clue as to the stresses about the labrum through the complete range of motions of the hip, which may help in providing a better understanding of the cause of labral tears and in the protection of labral repairs.