Subchondral Bone and the Osteochondral Unit: Basic Science and Clinical Implications in Sports Medicine.
CONTEXT: Articular cartilage injuries and early osteoarthritis are among the most common conditions seen by sports medicine physicians. Nonetheless, treatment options for articular degeneration are limited once the osteoarthritic cascade has started. Intense research is focused on the use of biologics, cartilage regeneration, and transplantation to help maintain and improve cartilage health. An underappreciated component of joint health is the subchondral bone. EVIDENCE ACQUISITION: A comprehensive, nonsystematic review of the published literature was completed via a PubMed/MEDLINE search of the keywords "subchondral" AND "bone" from database inception through December 1, 2016. STUDY DESIGN: Clinical review. LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Level 4. METHODS: Articles collected via the database search were assessed for the association of bone marrow lesions and osteoarthritis, cartilage regeneration, and ligamentous and meniscal injury; the clinical disorder known as painful bone marrow edema syndrome; and the subchondral bone as a target for medical and surgical intervention. RESULTS: A complex interplay exists between the articular cartilage of the knee and its underlying subchondral bone. The role of subchondral bone in the knee is intimately related to the outcomes from cartilage restoration procedures, ligamentous injury, meniscal pathology, and osteoarthritis. However, subchondral bone is often neglected when it should be viewed as a critical element of the osteochondral unit and a key player in joint health. CONCLUSION: Continued explorations into the intricacies of subchondral bone marrow abnormalities and implications for the advent of procedures such as subchondroplasty will inform further research efforts on how interventions aimed at the subchondral bone may provide durable options for knee joint preservation.
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