Osteochondral Grafting: Effect of Graft Alignment, Material Properties, and Articular Geometry

Darryl D. D’Lima*, Peter C. Chen, Clifford W. Colwell Jr.
Shiley Center for Orthopaedic Research & Education at Scripps Clinic, Scripps Clinic, La Jolla, CA, USA

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© D’Lima et al.; Licensee Bentham Open.

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* Address correspondence to this author at the Shiley Center for Orthopaedic Research and Education at Scripps Clinic, 11025 N. Torrey Pines Road, Suite 140, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA; Tel: 858-332-0166; Fax: 858-332-0669; E-mail:


Osteochondral grafting for cartilage lesions is an attractive surgical procedure; however, the clinical results have not always been successful. Surgical recommendations differ with respect to donor site and graft placement technique. No clear biomechanical analysis of these surgical options has been reported. We hypothesized that differences in graft placement, graft biomechanical properties, and graft topography affect cartilage stresses and strains. A finite element model of articular cartilage and meniscus in a normal knee was constructed. The model was used to analyze the magnitude and the distribution of contact stresses, von Mises stresses, and compressive strains in the intact knee, after creation of an 8-mm diameter osteochondral defect, and after osteochondral grafting of the defect. The effects of graft placement, articular surface topography, and biomechanical properties were evaluated. The osteochondral defect generated minimal changes in peak contact stress (3.6 MPa) relative to the intact condition (3.4 MPa) but significantly increased peak von Mises stress (by 110%) and peak compressive strain (by 63%). A perfectly matched graft restored stresses and strains to near intact conditions. Leaving the graft proud by 0.5 mm generated the greatest increase in local stresses (peak contact stresses = 6.7 MPa). Reducing graft stiffness and curvature of articular surface had lesser effects on local stresses. Graft alignment, graft biomechanical properties, and graft topography all affected cartilage stresses and strains. Contact stresses, von Mises stresses, and compressive strains are biomechanical markers for potential tissue damage and cell death. Leaving the graft proud tends to jeopardize the graft by increasing the stresses and strains on the graft. From a biomechanical perspective, the ideal surgical procedure is a perfectly aligned graft with reasonably matched articular cartilage surface from a lower load-bearing region of the knee.