Microfracture surgery

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Left knee-joint from behind, showing interior ligaments. (Lateral meniscus and medial meniscus are cartilage.)

Microfracture surgery is an orthopedic surgical technique that can help restore knee cartilage by creating tiny fractures in the adjacent bones, causing new cartilage to develop. It can be used to treat both degenerative knee problems as well as cartilage injuries, and has gained a high profile in the sports world in recent years; numerous professional athletes including members of the NBA, NFL and NHL (most notably Steve Yzerman and Amare Stoudemire) have undergone the procedure.

The surgery is quick (taking around 30 minutes), minimally invasive, and has significantly shorter recovery times than an arthroplasty (knee replacement). Combined with a high rate of success, these factors have caused orthopedic surgeons to use the procedure with increasing frequency.




The surgery was developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s by Dr. Richard Steadman of the Steadman-Hawkins clinic in Vail, Colorado. Steadman slowly refined the procedure through research (including tests on horses)[1]. After Steadman experienced success with the surgery, professional athletes started taking notice. Originally, the surgery was called "controversial" by many sportswriters, due to a lack of studies on the long-term effects and the fact that an unsuccessful surgery could end an athlete's career.[2] However, Steadman and other researchers have proven that compared to other treatments, the procedure is safe and effective, even in the long term.[3] Dr. Steadman has also adapted the surgery into a treatment to help reattach torn ligaments (a technique he calls the "healing response") that he successfully used on alpine skiier Bode Miller.[4] Possible applications in the hip and ankle joints have also been speculated on.[5]


The surgery is performed through an arthroscopy. The surgeon first removes any calcified cartilage. Tiny fractures are then created in the adjacent bones through the use of an awl. Blood and bone marrow (which contains stem cells) seep out of the fractures, creating a blood clot that releases cartilage-building cells. The microfractures are treated as an injury by the body, which is why the surgery results in new, replacement cartilage.[6] The procedure does have limitations, and is less effective in treating older patients, overweight patients, or cartilage damage that is larger than 2.5 cm.[6]


Current studies have shown a success rate of 75 to 80 percent among patients 45 years of age or younger, even among professional athletes.[3][5] With the help of physical therapy, patients can often return to sports (or other intense activities) in about 4 months. However, this is a best-case scenario and depends on the severity of the cartilage damage (and any other conditions existing in the knee). Normal patients and professional athletes who play at the highest level however are quite different, as Chris Webber, who underwent the surgery, has stated that a full recovery in 4 months is nearly impossible. Webber returned to the NBA eight months after his surgery but has never been the same since.[7]

Use in professional sports

There have been many notable professional athletes who have undergone the procedure. Partially because of the high level of stress placed on the knees by these athletes, the surgery is not a panacea and results have been mixed. Many players' careers effectively end despite the surgery. However, some players such as Jason Kidd, Steve Yzerman, John Stockton and Zach Randolph [2] have been able to return at or near their pre-surgery form while players Brian Grant, Antonio McDyess, Chris Webber, Allan Houston and Penny Hardaway never regained their old form while others as Jamal Mashburn and Terrell Brandon never recovered and retired. Portland Trailblazers rookie Greg Oden underwent the procedure in early September 2007 and is expected to miss the entire 2007-2008 NBA season.

In October 2005, young star Amare Stoudemire of the NBA's Phoenix Suns underwent one of the highest-profile microfracture surgeries to date. He returned to the court in March 2006 and initially appeared to have made a full recovery, but subsequently started feeling stiffness in both knees (his right knee had been overcompensating for the injured left knee). He and the team doctor decided he needed more time to rehab and he did not return until the 2006-2007 NBA season.[8] During the 2006-2007 season, Stoudemire returned to form, averaging 20.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game while playing in all 82 regular season games and the 2007 NBA All-Star Game. His recent success has brought positive publicity to the procedure, further distancing it from a previous reputation as a possible "career death sentence" in the sports world although he was one of the youngest of the aforementioned players to undergo the surgery. [9]

In September 2007, Portland Trail Blazers first-round draft pick, Greg Oden underwent microfracture surgery, ending his rookie season before it began. At only 19 at the time of the surgery, doctors are confident that he will return to at or near full strength by the 2008-2009 season. [10]


  1. ^ Dr. Richard Steadman: Pioneer in Cartilage Regeneration, interview by Neal Patel,, July 31, 2000
  2. ^ "Bills looking for more balance on offense", Len Pasquarelli,, August 5, 2003
  3. ^ a b "Outcomes of microfracture for traumatic chondral defects of the knee: Average 11-year follow-up", Steadman et al., Arthroscopy: The Journal of Arthroscopic and Related Surgery, Vol 19, No 5 (May-June), 2003: pp 477–484
  4. ^ "Healing-Response Treatment for ACL Injuries", Steadman et al., Orthopedic Technology Review, Vol 3, No 3 (May-June) 2002
  5. ^ a b Orthopaedic Surgeon Performs Innovative Microfracture Procedure On Arthritic Knees Avoiding Knee Replacement Surgery, Medical News Today, February 26, 2006
  6. ^ a b "Older Knees Now Have New Option", Vicky Lowry, New York Times, April 5, 2005 (reprinted with permission in Steadman-Hawkins Research Foundation newsletter, Vol 11 (Fall-Winter) 2005-06)
  7. ^ "Amaré timeline spurs doubt", Phil Jasner, Philadelphia Daily News, October 19, 2005
  8. ^ "Amaré back in Valley", Paul Coro, The Arizona Republic, March 30, 2006
  9. ^ "The Daily Dime 3.17.07: 10 Drops of NBA Knowledge. (Section 3, Western Conference)", Marc Stein,, March 17, 2007
  10. ^ [1]"Greg Oden undergoes microfracture surgery"]

Kenyon Martin has had 2 microfracture surgeries.

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Category: Orthopedic surgery