Evaluation of Postoperative Changes in Patellar and Quadriceps Tendons after Total Knee Arthroplasty-A Comprehensive Analysis by Shear Wave Elastography, Power Doppler and B-mode Ultrasound

Acad Radiol. 2020 Jun;27(6):e148-e157. doi: 10.1016/j.acra.2019.08.015. Epub 2019 Sep 14.


Rationale and objectives: Up to now, the diagnosis of tendinopathies is based on conventional B-mode-ultrasound (B-US), Power Doppler-ultrasound (PD-US), and magnetic resonance imaging. In the past decade, Shear Wave Elastography (SWE) has been introduced in tendon imaging, for example in athletes or patients suffering from tendinopathy. SWE allows real-time quantification of tissue stiffness, and, by this, the assessment of the mechanical properties of a tendon and its changes during acute disease and tendon healing. So far there are no ultrasound-based studies that have evaluated postoperative tendon changes, anatomical and mechanical properties and tendon healing of the patellar, and quadriceps tendon following Total Knee Arthroplasty (TKA). The purpose of this prospective study was two-fold: first to analyze morphologic, vascular, and mechanical properties of patellar and quadriceps tendons in patients following TKA; and, second to evaluate possible changes thereof and their visibility in the course of time.

Materials and methods: Observational cross-sectional, IRB-approved study in 63 postoperative patients with a total of 76 total knee arthroplasties (50 unilateral, 13 bilateral) and 50 nonoperated knees for comparison, resulting in 152 postoperative patellar- and quadriceps and 100 nonoperated patellar- and quadriceps-tendons for comparative analysis. For further examination, we divided the 63 patients into two groups according to the duration since surgery (group A < 24 months; group B > 24 months). All patients completed a standardized questionnaire, furthermore the Knee Society score and the Knee Society function score. The amount of experienced pain was assessed using the ordinal numeric rating scale and the presence of anterior knee pain was examined. Subsequently every participant underwent a standardized multimodal ultrasound protocol consisting of B-US, PD-US, and SWE of the left and right patellar and quadriceps tendons.

Results: Using the different US-modalities, operated patellar, and quadriceps tendons (n = 152) were significantly more frequent classified as pathological (B-US) (p < 0.001), the mean Ohberg score was significantly higher (PD-US) (p < 0.001), and the tendons were significantly softer (SWE) than their nonoperated counterparts (n = 100). Mean SWE-value of postoperative patellar tendons was 45.66 ± 14.84 kPa versus 60.08 ± 19.13 kPa in nonoperated knees (p < 0.001). Mean SWE-value of postoperative quadriceps tendons was 35.73 ± 15.66 kPa versus 52.69 ± 16.20 kPa in nonoperated knees (p < 0.001). Comparing the two postoperative groups (group A and B), we recognized a significant decrease of pathologically classified patellar and quadriceps tendons (B-US and PD-US) in group B. The early postoperatively reduced SWE values slightly increased during the course of time.

Conclusion: After TKA, patellar, and quadriceps tendons show significant measurable alterations in B-US, PD-US, and SWE. Especially a significant decrease of tendon stiffness in operated knees, as assessed by SWE, might be a surrogate marker for changed mechanical properties. These alterations improve, the longer ago the surgery was. The quantitative information obtained by SWE could be of particular interest in follow-up and therapy monitoring after TKA. Knowledge about tendon stiffness and it's varieties in different population groups (e.g. athletes, elderly, postoperative patients) is crucial to sonographically rate a tendon as "healthy" or "diseased."

Keywords: Shear Wave Elastography; patellar tendon; quadriceps tendon; sonography; tendon healing; total knee replacement.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Arthroplasty, Replacement, Knee*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Elasticity Imaging Techniques*
  • Humans
  • Prospective Studies
  • Tendinopathy* / diagnostic imaging
  • Tendons / diagnostic imaging