Does Manual Drilling Improve the Healing of Bone–Hamstring Tendon Grafts in Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction? A Histological and Biomechanical Study in a Rabbit Model

Matteo Maria Tei, Giacomo Placella, Marta Sbaraglia, Roberto Tiribuzi, Anastasios Georgoulis, Giuliano Cerulli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Heat necrosis due to motorized drilling during anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction could be a factor in delayed healing at the bone–tendon graft interface. Hypothesis: The process of osteointegration could be enhanced using manual drilling. It reduces the invasiveness of mechanical-thermal stress normally caused by the traditional motorized drill bit. Study Design: Controlled laboratory study. Methods: ACL reconstruction using semitendinosus tendon autografts was performed in 28 skeletally mature female New Zealand white rabbits, which were randomly divided into 3 groups. In group A (n = 12), the tunnels were drilled using a motorized device; in group B (n = 12), the tunnels were drilled using a manual drill bit; and group C (n = 4) served as a control with sham surgical procedures. The healing process in the tunnels was assessed histologically at 2, 4, 8, and 12 weeks and graded according to the Tendon–Bone Tunnel Healing (TBTH) scoring system. In addition, another 25 rabbits were used for biomechanical testing. The structural properties of the femur–ACL graft–tibia complex, from animals sacrificed at 8 weeks postoperatively, were determined using uniaxial tests. Stiffness (N/mm) and ultimate load to failure (N) were determined from the resulting load-elongation curves. Results: The time course investigation showed that manual drilling (group B) had a higher TBTH score and improved mechanical behavior, reflecting better organized collagen fiber continuity at the bone–fibrous tissue interface, better integration between the graft and bone, and early mineralized chondrocyte-like tissue formation at all the time points analyzed with a maximum difference at 4 weeks (TBTH score: 5.4 [group A] vs 12.3 [group B]; P <.001). Stiffness (23.1 ± 8.2 vs 17.8 ± 6.3 N/mm, respectively) and ultimate load to failure (91.8 ± 60.4 vs 55.0 ± 18.0 N, respectively) were significantly enhanced in the specimens treated with manual drilling compared with motorized drilling (P <.05 for both). Conclusion: The use of manual drilling during ACL reconstruction resulted in better tendon-to-bone healing during the crucial early weeks. Manual drilling was able to improve the biological and mechanical properties of bone–hamstring tendon graft healing and was able to restore postoperative graft function more quickly. Tunnel drilling results in bone loss and deficient tendon-bone healing, and heat necrosis after tunnel enlargement may cause mechanical stress, contributing to a delay in healing. Manual drilling preserved the bone stock inside the tunnel, reduced heat necrosis, and offered a better microenvironment for faster healing at the interface. Clinical Relevance: Based on study results, manual drilling could be used successfully in human ACL reconstruction, but further clinical studies are needed. A clinical alternative, called the original “all-inside” technique, has been developed for ACL reconstruction. In this technique, the femoral and tibial tunnels are manually drilled only halfway through the bone for graft fixation, reducing bone loss. Data from this study suggest that hamstring tendon–to–bone healing can be improved using a manual drilling technique to form femoral and tibial tunnels.

Original languageEnglish
JournalOrthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 1 2020


  • ACL
  • ACL reconstruction
  • heat necrosis
  • manual drilling
  • tendon-bone healing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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