Bioabsorbable Versus Metal Screw in the Fixation of Tibial Tubercle Transfer: A Cadaveric Biomechanical Study

Orthop J Sports Med. 2017 Jul 10;5(7):2325967117714433. doi: 10.1177/2325967117714433. eCollection 2017 Jul.


Background: In tibial tubercle transfer (TTT) procedures, the osteotomized and transferred tibial tubercle is usually fixed into the host bone using metal screws.

Purpose: To compare the strength of fixation provided by a single bioabsorbable screw versus a metal screw for TTT.

Study design: Controlled laboratory study.

Methods: Twenty-two pairs of human cadaveric tibiae were used to compare the fixation strength of a single 4.5-mm bicortical bioabsorbable or metal screw for TTT. In our 2-phase biomechanical testing protocol, the specimens were first subjected to a cyclic-loading test (1500 loading cycles between 50 and 300 N at 0.5 Hz frequency), after which they were loaded to failure (single-cycle load-to-failure test). To control for possible differences in bone quality, volumetric bone mineral density was determined using peripheral quantitative computed tomography.

Results: No significant displacement differences were observed between the 2 groups for the cyclic-loading test. In the subsequent single-cycle load-to-failure test, the mean yield load was 566 ± 234 N in the bioabsorbable screw group and 984 ± 630 N in the metal screw group (P = .002). The failure mode of bioabsorbable screws was breakage and/or bending, and that of metal screws was bending and/or pull-out. Bone density was similar in the 2 groups.

Conclusion: A metal screw seems to provide greater fixation strength than a biodegradable screw in the TTT of a human cadaveric knee. However, considering the maximum quadriceps pull in vivo, the strength of fixation provided by a biodegradable screw seems clinically sufficient.

Clinical relevance: Bioabsorbable screws, particularly if used in duplicate, could provide a viable option for metal screws in TTT fixation.

Keywords: biomechanical study; cadaver study; osteotomy; screw fixation; tibial tubercle transfer.