Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Knee News

Thumbs Down for Thermal Shrinkage of Knee Ligaments

In this study radiofrequency (RF) (a form of heat) was used to shrink a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament in 19 patients. After one year 86 percent of the patients still had a stable knee. After five years 85 percent had complete failure of the ACL. The results of this study do not support the use of thermal shrinkage to treat ACL laxity.

Doctors are looking for ways to treat a torn ACL without using invasive surgery. One of those methods has been the use of heat to shrink the collagen fibers of the lax ligament. Radiofrequency (RF) has been used in the shoulder with some success. This study supports the findings of other studies that thermal shrinkage isn't successful for torn knee ligaments.

Three kinds of ligament laxity were included in this report. Some patients
had a recent partial tear of the ACL. Others had an old, chronic injury. A few had ligament laxity from a previously repaired ACL injury. In this last group the graft used to replace the ligament stretched after surgery.

The authors call the failed thermal shrinkage in this study "catastrophic." They say that RF treatment may work in the short-run, but its effects aren't worth it in the long-term.


Jeffrey Halbrecht, MD. Long-Term Failure of Thermal Shrinkage for Laxity of the Anterior Cruciate Ligament. In The American Journal of Sports Medicine. July 2005. Vol. 33. No. 7. Pp. 990-995.

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