Comparison of Bone Tunnel and Cortical Surface Tendon-to-Bone Healing in a Rabbit Model of Biceps Tenodesis

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Abstract

Background:

Many orthopaedic surgical procedures involve reattachment of a single tendon to bone. Whether tendon-to-bone healing is better facilitated by tendon fixation within a bone tunnel or on a cortical surface is unknown. The purpose of this study was to evaluate tendon-healing within a bone tunnel compared with that on the cortical surface in a rabbit model of biceps tenodesis.

Methods:

Thirty-two rabbits (24 weeks of age) underwent unilateral proximal biceps tenodesis with tendon fixation within a bone tunnel (BT group) or on the cortical surface (SA [surface attachment] group). Postoperatively, rabbits were allowed free-cage activity without immobilization. All rabbits were killed 8 weeks after surgery. Healing was assessed by biomechanical testing, microcomputed tomography (micro-CT), and histomorphometric analysis.

Results:

Biomechanical testing demonstrated no significant difference between the groups in mean failure loads (BT: 56.8 ± 28.8 N, SA: 55.8 ± 14.9 N; p = 0.92) or stiffness (BT: 26.3 ± 16.6 N/mm, SA: 32.3 ± 9.6 N/mm; p = 0.34). Micro-CT analysis demonstrated no significant difference between the groups in mean volume of newly formed bone (BT: 69.3 ± 13.9 mm3, SA: 65.5 ± 21.9 mm3; p = 0.70) or tissue mineral density of newly formed bone (BT: 721.4 ± 10.9 mg/cm3, SA: 698.6 ± 26.2 mg/cm3; p = 0.07). On average, newly formed bone within the tunnel represented only 5% of the total new bone formed in the BT specimens. Histological analysis demonstrated tendon-bone interdigitation and early fibrocartilaginous zone formation on the outer cortical surface in both groups. In contrast, minimal tendon-bone bonding was observed within the tunnel in the BT specimens.

Conclusions:

Tendon fixation in a bone tunnel and on the cortical surface resulted in similar healing profiles. For tendons placed within a bone tunnel, intratunnel healing was minimal compared with the healing outside the tunnel on the cortical surface.

Clinical Relevance:

The creation of large bone tunnels, which can lead to stress risers and increase the risk of fracture, may not be necessary for biceps tenodesis procedures.

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