DOI: 10.1177/19476035231194770 ISSN:

Decreased Elastic Modulus of Knee Articular Cartilage Based on New Macroscopic Methods Accurately Represents Early Histological Findings of Degeneration

Takahiro Maeda, Shinichi Kuriyama, Shigeo Yoshida, Kohei Nishitani, Shinichiro Nakamura, Shuichi Matsuda
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Immunology and Allergy


Ex vivo nanoindentation measurement has reported that elastic modulus decreases as cartilage degenerates, but no method has been established to macroscopically evaluate mechanical properties in vivo. The objective of this study was to evaluate the elastic modulus of knee joint cartilage based on macroscopic methods and to compare it with gross and histological findings of degeneration.


Osteochondral sections were taken from 50 knees with osteoarthritis (average age, 75 years) undergoing total knee arthroplasty. The elastic modulus of the cartilage was measured with a specialized elasticity tester. Gross findings were recorded as International Cartilage Repair Society (ICRS) grade. Histological findings were graded as Mankin score and microscopic cartilage thickness measurement.


In ICRS grades 0 to 2 knees with normal to moderate cartilage abnormalities, the elastic modulus of cartilage decreased significantly as cartilage degeneration progressed. The elastic modulus of cartilage was 12.2 ± 3.8 N/mm for ICRS grade 0, 6.3 ± 2.6 N/mm for ICRS grade 1, and 3.8 ± 2.4 N/mm for ICRS grade 2. Similarly, elastic modulus was correlated with Mankin score ( r = −0.51, P < 0.001). Multiple regression analyses showed that increased Mankin score is the most relevant factor associated with decreased elastic modulus of the cartilage ( t-value, −4.53; P < 0.001), followed by increased histological thickness of the cartilage ( t-value, −3.15; P = 0.002).


Mechanical properties of damaged knee cartilage assessed with new macroscopic methods are strongly correlated with histological findings. The method has potential to become a nondestructive diagnostic modality for early cartilage damage in the clinical setting.

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