A Comprehensive Reanalysis of the Distal Iliotibial Band: Quantitative Anatomy, Radiographic Markers, and Biomechanical Properties

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Abstract

Background:

The qualitative anatomy of the distal iliotibial band (ITB) has previously been described. However, a comprehensive characterization of the quantitative anatomic, radiographic, and biomechanical properties of the Kaplan fibers of the deep distal ITB has not yet been established. It is paramount to delineate these characteristics to fully understand the distal ITB’s contribution to rotational knee stability.

Purpose/Hypothesis:

There were 2 distinct purposes for this study: (1) to perform a quantitative anatomic and radiographic evaluation of the distal ITB’s attachment sites and their relationships to pertinent osseous and soft tissue landmarks, and (2) to quantify the biomechanical properties of the deep (Kaplan) fibers of the distal ITB. It was hypothesized that the distal ITB has definable parameters concerning its anatomic attachments and consistent relationships to surgically pertinent landmarks with correlating plain radiographic findings. In addition, it was hypothesized that the biomechanical properties of the Kaplan fibers would support their role as important restraints against internal rotation.

Study Design:

Descriptive laboratory study.

Methods:

Ten nonpaired, fresh-frozen human cadaveric knees (mean age, 61.1 years; range, 54-65 years) were dissected for anatomic and radiographic purposes. A coordinate measuring device quantified the attachment areas of the distal ITB to the distal femur, patella, and proximal tibia and their relationships to pertinent bony landmarks. A radiographic analysis was performed by inserting pins into the attachment sites of relevant anatomic structures to assess their location relative to pertinent bony landmarks with fluoroscopic guidance. A further biomechanical assessment of 10 cadaveric knees quantified the load to failure and stiffness of the Kaplan fibers’ insertion on the distal femur after a preconditioning protocol.

Results:

Two separate deep (Kaplan) fiber bundles were identified with attachments to 2 newly identified femoral bony prominences (ridges). The proximal and distal bundles inserted on the distal femur 53.6 mm (95% CI, 50.7-56.6 mm) and 31.4 mm (95% CI, 27.3-35.5 mm) proximal to the lateral epicondyle, respectively. The centers of the bundle insertions were 22.5 mm (95% CI, 19.1-25.9 mm) apart. The total insertion area of the distal ITB on the proximal tibia was 429.1 mm2 (95% CI, 349.2-509.1 mm2). A distinct capsulo-osseous layer of the distal ITB was also identified that was intimately related to the lateral knee capsule. Its origin was in close proximity to the lateral gastrocnemius tubercle, and it inserted on the proximal tibia at the lateral tibial tubercle between the fibular head and the Gerdy tubercle. Radiographic analysis supported the quantitative anatomic findings. The mean maximum load during pull-to-failure testing was 71.3 N (95% CI, 41.2-101.4 N) and 170.2 N (95% CI, 123.6-216.8 N) for the proximal and distal Kaplan bundles, respectively.

Conclusion:

The most important finding of this study was that 2 distinct deep bundles (Kaplan fibers) of the distal ITB were identified. Each bundle of the deep layer of the ITB was associated with a newly identified distinct bony ridge. Radiographic analysis confirmed the measurements previously recorded and established reproducible landmarks for the newly described structures. Biomechanical testing revealed that the Kaplan fibers had a strong attachment to the distal femur, thereby supporting a role in rotational knee stability.

Clinical Relevance:

The identification of 2 distinct deep fiber (Kaplan) attachments clarifies the function of the ITB more definitively. The results also support the role of the ITB in rotatory knee stability because of the fibers’ vectors and their identified maximum loads. These findings provide the anatomic and biomechanical foundation needed for the development of reconstruction or repair techniques to anatomically address these deficiencies in knee ligament injuries.

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