A randomized trial comparing accelerated and traditional approaches to postoperative weightbearing rehabilitation after matrix-induced autologous chondrocyte implantation: findings at 5 years

Am J Sports Med. 2012 Jul;40(7):1527-37. doi: 10.1177/0363546512445167. Epub 2012 Apr 26.


Background: While structured postoperative rehabilitation after matrix-induced autologous chondrocyte implantation (MACI) is considered critical, very little has been made available on how best to progressively increase weightbearing and exercise after surgery.

Hypothesis: A significant improvement will exist in clinical and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-based scoring measures to 5 years after surgery. Furthermore, there will be no significant differences in outcomes in MACI patients at 5 years when comparing a traditional and an accelerated postoperative weightbearing regimen. Finally, patient demographics, cartilage defect parameters, and injury/surgery history will be associated with graft outcome.

Study design: Randomized controlled trial; level of evidence, 1.

Methods: Clinical and radiological outcomes were studied in 70 patients who underwent MACI to the medial or lateral femoral condyle, in conjunction with either an "accelerated" or a "traditional" approach to postoperative weightbearing rehabilitation. Under the accelerated protocol, patients reached full weightbearing at 8 weeks after surgery, compared with 11 weeks for the traditional group. Clinical measures (knee injury and osteoarthritis outcome score [KOOS], short-form health survey [SF-36], visual analog scale [VAS], 6-minute walk test, and knee range of motion) were assessed before surgery and at 3, 6, 12, and 24 months and 5 years after surgery. High-resolution MRI was undertaken at 3, 12, and 24 months and 5 years after surgery and assessed 8 previously defined pertinent parameters of graft repair as well as a combined MRI composite score. The association between clinical and MRI-based outcomes, patient demographics, chondral defect parameters, and injury/surgery history was investigated.

Results: Of the 70 patients recruited, 63 (31 accelerated, 32 traditional) underwent clinical follow-up at 5 years; 58 (29 accelerated, 29 traditional) also underwent radiological assessment. A significant time effect (P < .05) was demonstrated for all clinical and MRI-based scores over the 5-year period. While the VAS demonstrated significantly less frequent pain at 5 years in the accelerated group, there were no other significant differences between the 2 groups. Between 24 months and 5 years, a significant improvement (P < .05) in both groups was observed for the sport and recreation subscale of the KOOS as well as a significant decrease (P < .05) in active knee extension for the traditional group. There were no significant differences (P > .05) in the MRI-based scores between 24 months and 5 years after surgery. Patient age and defect size exhibited significant negative correlations (P < .05) with several MRI-based outcomes at 5 years, while there were no significant correlations (P > .05) between clinical and MRI-based outcomes. At 5 years after surgery, 94% and 95% were satisfied with the ability of MACI to relieve their knee pain and improve their ability to undertake daily activities, respectively.

Conclusion: The outcomes of this randomized trial demonstrate a safe and effective accelerated rehabilitation protocol as well as a regimen that provides comparable, if not superior, clinical outcomes to patients throughout the postoperative timeline.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cartilage, Articular / injuries*
  • Cartilage, Articular / pathology
  • Cartilage, Articular / surgery*
  • Chondrocytes / transplantation*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Knee Injuries / pathology
  • Knee Injuries / rehabilitation*
  • Knee Injuries / surgery*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors
  • Tissue Engineering
  • Transplantation, Autologous / methods
  • Weight-Bearing*
  • Young Adult