Graft-Preserving Arthroscopic Debridement With Hardware Removal Is Effective for Septic Arthritis After Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction: A Clinical, Arthrometric, and Magnetic Resonance Imaging Evaluation

Mirco Lo Presti, Giuseppe Gianluca Costa, Alberto Grassi, Sergio Cialdella, Giuseppe Agrò, Maurizio Busacca, Maria Pia Neri, Giuseppe Filardo, Stefano Zaffagnini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Arthroscopic debridement with graft preservation has been advocated as the treatment of choice for septic arthritis after anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction, but no previous studies have investigated if hardware removal, while retaining the graft in situ, improves the success rate. Moreover, it is unclear whether the premature removal of fixation devices may affect graft integration and knee stability.

PURPOSE/HYPOTHESIS: The purpose was to assess the clinical and functional outcomes of patients with septic arthritis after ACL reconstruction who underwent arthroscopic debridement, while retaining the graft in situ but removing fixation devices, and to determine if premature hardware removal affects graft integrity and function. The hypothesis was that arthroscopic debridement with hardware removal would be effective in eradicating infections while not compromising graft integration and function.

STUDY DESIGN: Case series; Level of evidence, 4.

METHODS: From a cohort of 2384 cases of arthroscopic ACL reconstruction, 24 patients with postoperative septic arthritis were included for the analysis; 18 patients were available for a clinical evaluation using the International Knee Documentation Committee (IKDC) form, Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC), Lysholm score, and Tegner score at a minimum 12-month follow-up. Knee laxity was assessed clinically with standardized manual laxity tests and instrumentally using an arthrometer and a triaxial accelerometer. Additionally, 3-T magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at final follow-up was performed, focusing on the graft signal, the cartilage status, and the occurrence of arthrofibrosis.

RESULTS: Eradication of the infection was achieved in all cases, and only 1 graft removal was performed because of insufficient tension. Among the remaining 23 patients, a single arthroscopic debridement procedure with hardware removal while preserving the graft was effective in 21 cases (91%) at a mean of 30 ± 37 days from ACL reconstruction to debridement. At last follow-up, 2 patients required a further ACL revision procedure. The mean IKDC, WOMAC, Lysholm, and Tegner scores of the patients available for the clinical evaluation were 75 ± 19, 90 ± 8, 79 ± 21, and 6 ± 2, respectively. No abnormal laxity was reported on manual testing, and arthrometric and accelerometer tests also demonstrated good knee stability (mean KT-1000 arthrometer side-to-side difference was 1.6 ± 1.2 mm at manual maximum force). On MRI, a good graft signal was found in 50% of cases, while concomitant signs of arthrofibrosis were detected in 81% of patients. Severe cartilage defects (International Cartilage Repair Society grade ≥3) were reported in 63% of cases.

CONCLUSION: Arthroscopic debridement with hardware removal was effective in the eradication of infections after ACL reconstruction with extra-articular fixation while preserving graft integrity without compromising knee stability. Patients and surgeons should be aware of complications that might affect the outcome, particularly arthrofibrosis and chondrolysis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1907-1915
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Sports Medicine
Issue number8
Early online dateJun 10 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020


  • anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction
  • ACL
  • septic arthritis
  • infection
  • graft preserving
  • hardware removal
  • MRI
  • return to sports


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