The role of electrical stimulation in the management of avascular necrosis of the femoral head in adults: a systematic review
Osteonecrosis of the femoral head is the endpoint of a disease process that results from insufficient blood flow and bone-tissue necrosis, leading to joint instability, collapse of the femoral head, arthritis of the joint, and total hip replacement. Pain is the most frequent clinical symptom. Both bone tissue and cartilage suffer when osteonecrosis of the femoral head develops. Stimulation with pulsed electromagnetic fields (PEMFs) has been shown to be useful for enhancing bone repair and for exerting a chondroprotective effect on articular cartilage. Two Italian studies on the treatment of avascular necrosis of the femoral head with PEMFs were presented in this review. In the first study, 68 patients suffering from avascular necrosis of the femoral head were treated with PEMFs in combination with core decompression and autologous bone grafts. The second one is a retrospective analysis of the results of treatment with PEMFs of 76 hips in 66 patients with osteonecrosis of the femoral head. In both studies clinical information and diagnostic imaging were collected at the beginning of the treatment and at the time of follow up. Statistical analysis was performed using chi-square test. Both authors hypothesize that the short-term effect of PEMF stimulation may be to protect the articular cartilage from the catabolic effect of inflammation and subchondral bone-marrow edema. The long-term effect of PEMF stimulation may be to promote osteogenic activity at the necrotic area and prevent trabecular fracture and subchondral bone collapse. PEMF stimulation represents an important therapeutic opportunity to resolve the Ficat stage-I or II disease or at least to delay the time until joint replacement becomes necessary.