Background: There is continuing controversy regarding the optimal
treatment for patients with symptomatic early-stage osteonecrosis of the
femoral head. We compared the results of noninvasive treatment with
extracorporeal shock waves with those of core decompression and bone-grafting
in similar groups of patients.
Methods: Patients with stage-I, II, or III osteonecrosis were
randomly assigned to be treated either with shock waves or with core
decompression and nonvascularized fibular grafting. The shock-wave group
consisted of twenty-three patients (twenty-nine hips), and the surgical group
consisted of twenty-five patients (twenty-eight hips). The patients in the two
groups had similar demographic characteristics, duration and stage of disease,
and duration of follow-up. The patients in the shock-wave group received a
single treatment with 6000 impulses of shock waves at 28 kV to the affected
hip. The evaluation parameters included clinical assessment of pain with a
visual analog pain scale, Harris hip scores, and an assessment of activities
of daily living and work capacity. Radiographic assessment was performed with
serial plain radiographs and magnetic resonance imaging.
Results: Before treatment, the two groups had similar pain and
Harris hip scores. At an average of twenty-five months after treatment, the
pain and Harris hip scores in the shock-wave group were significantly improved
compared with the pretreatment scores (p < 0.001). In this group, 79% of
the hips were improved, 10% were unchanged, and 10% were worse. Of the hips
treated with a nonvascularized fibular graft, 29% were improved, 36% were
unchanged, and 36% were worse. In the shock-wave group, imaging studies showed
regression of five of the thirteen lesions that had been designated as stage I
or II before treatment and no regression of a stage-III lesion. Two stage-II
and two stage-III lesions progressed. In the surgical group, four lesions
regressed and fifteen (of the nineteen graded as stage I or II) progressed.
The remaining nine lesions were unchanged.
Conclusions: Extracorporeal shock-wave treatment appeared to be more
effective than core decompression and nonvascularized fibular grafting in
patients with early-stage osteonecrosis of the femoral head. Long-term results
are needed to determine whether the effect of this novel method of treatment
for osteonecrosis of the femoral head endures.
Level of Evidence: Therapeutic Level I. See Instructions
to Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.