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Open Access Research article

The importance of early arthroscopy in athletes with painful cartilage lesions of the ankle: a prospective study of 61 consecutive cases

Christer G Rolf1*, Caroline Barclay1, Masoud Riyami1 and John George2

Author Affiliations

1 The Sheffield Centre of Sports Medicine, School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Sheffield, 5 Broomfield Road, S10 2SE, Sheffield, UK

2 Department of Biomedical Imaging, University of Malaya, Malaysia

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Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery and Research 2006, 1:4  doi:10.1186/1749-799X-1-4

Published: 28 September 2006

Abstract

Background

Ankle sprains are common in sports and can sometimes result in a persistent pain condition.

Purpose

Primarily to evaluate clinical symptoms, signs, diagnostics and outcomes of surgery for symptomatic chondral injuries of the talo crural joint in athletes. Secondly, in applicable cases, to evaluate the accuracy of MRI in detecting these injuries. Type of study: Prospective consecutive series.

Methods

Over around 4 years we studied 61 consecutive athletes with symptomatic chondral lesions to the talocrural joint causing persistent exertion ankle pain.

Results

43% were professional full time athletes and 67% were semi-professional, elite or amateur athletes, main sports being soccer (49%) and rugby (14%). The main subjective complaint was exertion ankle pain (93%). Effusion (75%) and joint line tenderness on palpation (92%) were the most common clinical findings. The duration from injury to arthroscopy for 58/61 cases was 7 months (5.7–7.9). 3/61 cases were referred within 3 weeks from injury. There were in total 75 cartilage lesions. Of these, 52 were located on the Talus dome, 17 on the medial malleolus and 6 on the Tibia plafond. Of the Talus dome injuries 18 were anteromedial, 14 anterolateral, 9 posteromedial, 3 posterolateral and 8 affecting mid talus. 50% were grade 4 lesions, 13.3% grade 3, 16.7% grade 2 and 20% grade 1. MRI had been performed pre operatively in 26/61 (39%) and 59% of these had been interpreted as normal. Detection rate of cartilage lesions was only 19%, but subchondral oedema was present in 55%. At clinical follow up average 24 months after surgery (10–48 months), 73% were playing at pre-injury level. The average return to that level of sports after surgery was 16 weeks (3–32 weeks). However 43% still suffered minor symptoms.

Conclusion

Arthroscopy should be considered early when an athlete presents with exertion ankle pain, effusion and joint line tenderness on palpation after a previous sprain. Conventional MRI is not reliable for detecting isolated cartilage lesions, but the presence of subchondral oedema should raise such suspicion.