Surgical modalities for the management of bone marrow edema of the knee joint


Bone marrow edema (BME) is a radiological term which can be found in many conditions with varied pathogenesis and histopathological images. It usually presents with pain in the affected joint and is diagnosed with MRI. Subchondroplasty (SCP) and core decompression (CD) are the surgical methods that are available to achieve pain relief and functional improvement. Both surgical methods have their own indications and are used depending on the patient’s history. The aim of this literature review article is to discuss the surgical modalities for the management of bone marrow edema focusing on the knee joint. Such topic which analyzes both surgical methods for treatment of bone marrow edema of the knee joint has never been described in a review article before.

Materials and methods

For the purpose of our manuscript we thoroughly searched electronic databases such as Pubmed and Medline to acquire the appropriate material for our review paper. Only English articles were used in this review. In our study we included every article that had described the surgical management of BME of the knee by CD and SCP. In the discussion we included 18 studies (9 CD and 9 SCP) with a total number of patients equal to 397, while 206/397 had undergone surgical intervention (169 underwent SCP and 37 CD).


Follow-up of 180 patients out of 206 were available for our review. A total number of 166 patients (92.2%) were successfully treated. Specifically, 29 (100%) patients were treated by CD and 137 (90.7%) by SCP. In a study, 10 patients who underwent SCP for BME secondary to advanced osteoarthritis (OA) yielded poor results. In other studies, pain persistency was observed in 2 patients, 1 patient had postoperative infection and another patient eventually underwent total knee arthroplasty (TKA). 70% prevention of TKA was achieved by SCP in a study of 66 patients with BME secondary to advanced OA. Thus, a total number of 166 patients were considered as clinical success and 14 patients as clinical failure.


The included studies that have been published referred to the surgical methods of CD or SCP for the management of BME of the knee but none of that summarizes all current studies on both methods. Those studies seem that CD is a surgical technique that is proposed to perform in patients without findings of OA that usually fail to respond to conservative treatment. On the other hand, the option of SCP technique is carried out in patients with varied stage of OA associated with subchondral BME. Both methods aim to reduce the pain and to improve function in the setting of subchondral BME. Nevertheless it is not clear in literature which method is the best according to the criteria of the use. This literature review shows a lack of standardized guidelines with respect to diagnosis and surgical treatment.