Patellar Clunk Syndrome: Complication Following Knee Replacement Surgery
In general, Total knee replacement (TKR) is a highly successful procedure. However, complications, although relatively rare, can sometimes occur. One such complication is known as Patellar Clunk Syndrome.
To understand this condition, it helps to first understand a little bit about knee anatomy and function (Figure 1). During knee flexion and extension, the patella (knee-cap) rides within a groove in the femur (thigh bone).
Figure 1: Basic Knee Anatomy
In knee replacement the worn ends of the bones are “resurfaced” with metal and plastic implants. The patellar groove is part of the metal femoral component that is implanted onto the prepared femur during the total knee replacement procedure. At the end of this groove there is a transition between the metallic implant and the native bony surface.
Following knee replacement, scar tissue can sometimes form at the top or “superior pole” of the patella. During particularly deep flexion, this scar tissue may move below the end of the groove in the femoral component and then “catch” on the end of the groove as the patella moves back with knee extension. It is this catching and then forceful release with extension that results in the “clunk” and pain characteristic of this condition.
This condition is more prevalent in a type of knee replacement known as Posterior Stabilized, or “PS” knee replacement, although it has also been reported in Cruciate Retaining (CR) knee designs as well. 1 In PS knee designs, where the posterior cruciate ligament is removed, the patellar groove tends to be shorter to avoid contact (in extension) between the end of the groove and a plastic post on the tibial component found in these types of designs. Consequently, the patella can come off the end of the groove during lesser degrees of flexion.
The publication cited at the end of this article provides more detailed information and a review of some of the literature on patellar clunk.