High-performance sports pose the greatest risk for knee trauma. It is only fitting that carbon fiber, the high-tech material used in cutting-edge bicycle frames, inline skates, and other athletic equipment, should be used to heal them.
Although carbon fiber implants have yet to gain Food and Drug Administration approval, and thus have not seen usage in American knees, they have been used for 19 years in Europe with great success. Known as the Matrix Support Prosthesis, or MSP, the device boasts jaw-dropping properties for a cartilage implant. According to Orthopedics Today (OT), the implants provide good shock absorption and lubrication, while attaining a firm attachment to the bone. In addition, the athletic world acknowledges carbon fiber as a strong and lightweight material, which may spell an end to the bulky joints that implant patients often speak of.
The implants come in two varieties: rods and pads. The rods, generally 3 millimeters in diameter and 12 millimeters in length, have found common use in smaller cartilage tears, especially in knees. Surgeons use pads, which are about 3 mm thick and as much as 38 mm in diameter, to fix larger lesions in the knee, as well as the toe, hip, elbow and hand, according to OT’s August issue. Where applicable, pads generally elicit a faster recovery, but rods are better in angular surfaces, and can be implanted by arthroscopic rather than open-knee surgery.
Six thousand implants and 19 years later, carbon-fiber implants have caused no toxic side-effects, according to Julian Minns, PhD, a consultant clinical scientist who has worked with MSP since its earliest common use in Europe. The implants have been 70 to 80 percent successful over five years, according to some studies. Many patients who have received the carbon fiber implants over the years had no success with other devices. As a result, the rods and pads offer new hope to patients who had previously given up on having fully-functioning knees.
Carbon-fiber implants may not work for everyone, however. Research suggests that the tibial plateau does not provide a hospitable surface to the implants. Additionally, rods or pads will not work if they are implanted too deeply, or, obviously, improperly. Still, the process, if approved by the FDA, would give American doctors one more weapon in the war against bad knees.
Source: Warnock, Scott. "Carbon Rods and Pads Demonstrate Promise for Articular Cartilage Repair." Orthopedics Today. August 2000. Online. Internet. Available http://www.slackinc.com/bone/ortoday/200008/cart1.asp