Original Article| Volume 30, ISSUE 2, P222-226, February 2014

Trends in the Surgical Treatment of Articular Cartilage Lesions in the United States: An Analysis of a Large Private-Payer Database Over a Period of 8 Years


      The purpose of this study was to quantify the current trends in knee cartilage surgical techniques performed in the United States from 2004 through 2011 using a large private-payer database. A secondary objective was to identify salient demographic factors associated with these procedures.


      We performed a retrospective database review using a large private-payer medical record database within the PearlDiver database. The PearlDiver database is a publicly available, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act–compliant national database compiled from a collection of private insurer records. A search was performed for surgical techniques in cartilage palliation (chondroplasty), repair (microfracture/drilling), and restoration (arthroscopic osteochondral autograft, arthroscopic osteochondral allograft, autologous chondrocyte implantation, open osteochondral allograft, and open osteochondral autograft). The incidence, growth, and demographic factors associated with the surgical procedures were assessed.


      From 2004 through 2011, 198,876,000 patients were analyzed. A surgical procedure addressing a cartilage defect was performed in 1,959,007 patients, for a mean annual incidence of 90 surgeries per 10,000 patients. Across all cartilage procedures, there was a 5.0% annual incidence growth (palliative, 3.7%; repair, 0%; and restorative, 3.1%) (P = .027). Palliative techniques (chondroplasty) were more common (>2:1 ratio for repair [marrow-stimulation techniques] and 50:1 ratio for restoration [autologous chondrocyte implantation and osteochondral autograft and allograft]). Palliative surgical approaches were the most common technique, regardless of age, sex, or region.


      Articular cartilage surgical procedures in the knee are common in the United States, with an annual incidence growth of 5%. Surgical techniques aimed at palliation are more common than cartilage repair and restoration techniques regardless of age, sex, or region.

      Level of Evidence

      Level IV, retrospective database analysis.
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