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The aim of the present study was to evaluate incidence, degree and impact of tibial tunnel widening (TW) on patient-reported long-term clinical outcome, knee joint stability and prevalence of osteoarthritis (OA) after isolated anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction. On average, 13.5 years after ACL reconstruction via patella-bone-tendon-bone autograft, 73 patients have been re-evaluated. Inclusion criteria consisted of an isolated anterior cruciate ligament rupture and reconstruction, a minimum of 10-year follow-up and no previous anterior cruciate ligament repair or associated intra-articular lesions. Clinical evaluation was performed via the International Knee Documentation Committee (IKDC) score and the Tegner and Lysholm scores. Instrumental anterior laxity testing was carried out with the KT-1000™ arthrometer. The degree of degenerative changes and the prevalence of osteoarthritis were assessed with the Kellgren-Lawrence score. Tibial tunnel enlargement was radiographically evaluated on both antero-posterior and lateral views under establishment of 4 degrees of tibial tunnel widening by measuring the actual tunnel diameters in mm on the sclerotic margins of the inserted tunnels on 3 different points (T1-T3). Afterwards, a conversion of the absolute values in mm into a 4 staged ratio, based on the comparison to the results of the initial drill-width, should provide a better quantification and statistical analysis. Evaluation was performed postoperatively as well as on 2 year follow-up and 13 years after ACL reconstruction. Minimum follow-up was 10 years. 75% of patients were graded A or B according to IKDC score. The mean Lysholm score was 90.2 ± 4.8 (25-100). Radiological assessment on long-term follow-up showed in 45% a grade I, in 24% a grade II, in 17% a grade III and in additional 12% a grade IV enlargement of the tibial tunnel. No evident progression of TW was found in comparison to the 2 year results. Radiological evaluation revealed degenerative changes in sense of a grade II OA in 54% of patients. Prevalence of a grade III or grade IV OA was found in 20%. Correlation analysis showed no significant relationship between the amount of tibial tunnel enlargement (P>0.05), long-term clinical results, anterior joint laxity or prevalence of osteoarthritis. Tunnel widening remains a radiological phenomenon which is most commonly observed within the short to midterm intervals after anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction and subsequently stabilises on mid and long- term follow-up. It does not adversely affect long-term clinical outcome and stability. Furthermore, tunnel widening doesn’t constitute an increasing prevalence of osteoarthritis.
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